Rebecca and Riley: Tempest in a Doll’s Tea Party

January 2, 2012

A fresh new year and Rebecca Watson is already upset about something I wrote. Is it January already?

Rebecca recently wrote a piece for her Skepchick blog called "Intellectual Cage Match: Ben Radford Vs. A 4-Year-Old," in which she critiqued a blog piece I wrote for Julia Lavarnway's recently-launched blog "We Are SkeptiXX." It was an analysis of a viral video featuring a four-year-old girl named Riley who complains about gender stereotyped marketing. In order to understand the context it's important to read my original post, which can be found at the link above.

There's much wrong about Rebecca's rebuttal to my article, so I'll jump in.

1) Rebecca begins by accusing me of "misrepresenting" research last year on a different topic; we had a long, drawn-out discussion on the subject which is easily available for anyone who wishes to look for it. I explained why Rebecca was wrong in her interpretation, and the whole thing ended with Rebecca contacting one or both of the authors who she claimed I misquoted; a year later, neither one has yet claimed that I misquoted or misrepresented them, their research, or the conclusions I quoted from their papers. Strange that Rebecca neglected to mention that...

2) Rebecca writes, "It takes a lot to strawman a 4-year old, but Ben's done it. For starters, most of his takedown involves literally taking the 4-year old's words at face value instead of comprehending what she's saying with her limited vocabulary."

There's a very specific reason I focused on Riley's words "at face value" for the purposes of discussion: They are concrete and objective. We can all agree on what exactly she said, we can read it and listen to it and quote it for reference in case of dispute. Anything much beyond her words is interpretation (more on this later). Julia's statement, in her response to my article on the We Are SkeptiXX blog that the point of Riley's rant was that "aisles in the toy store are often specifically labeled ‘Boys' and ‘Girls'" is a perfect example. To Julia, that was obviously the gist or thesis of Riley's comments. But that was not the gist that I, or another viewer I corresponded with, interpreted from her Riley's words.

The point isn't that Julia, Rebecca, or any one of us, is necessarily wrong, but that the problem with discussing interpretation is that it brings us back to subjective opinions. Like a piece of art, a dozen different people may have a dozen different interpretations. Certainly we can each argue for our own interpretation, but it's like people arguing about different interpretations of the Bible: It's often circular, and there's rarely a meeting of the minds or consensus about interpretations.

Of course it's not enough to just analyze her words (that's why I did so only briefly); it's only a starting point. There's nothing inherently wrong with discussing various interpretations, as long as people acknowledge that they are essentially subjective opinions, and that other people may have equally valid interpretations. When we stick to the original, objective, indisputable words that Riley spoke-whether she's four or forty-we stick to things we can all agree on. This is actually standard practice for skeptical investigation, which is my specialty (and something Rebecca has, to my knowledge, never done): You focus on what exactly the person said.

So when I insisted that Riley was wrong in her claim that girls are forced or "tricked" into buying or liking pink items or princesses, my purpose was not to be pedantic, but instead to keep the discussion grounded and rooted in objective evidence.

3) "Ben goes on to guess at why society has decided that pink is for girls and blue is for boys. One of his guesses is that girls' toys are pink because their dolls' skin is pink."

Apparently Rebecca was so busy facepalming herself that she didn't read what I wrote closely... Do I explain why girls decided that pink is for girls? Nope, I say that no one knows; here's the direct quote: "girls were later assigned the color pink for reasons that aren't entirely clear." Misrepresentation or misreading? Either way, Rebecca is wrong. A closer reading shows that I never claimed or suggested any link between "why society has decided that pink is for girls and blue is for boys" and "that girls' toys are pink because their dolls' skin is pink."

Rebecca confuses two separate issues; the question "Why are most toys and clothing items for female babies and young girls pink" is a different question than why society chose pink and blue to represent girls and boys, respectively. I did not even try to answer the latter question (in fact I wrote that "reasons that aren't entirely clear"), while the former question can be analyzed as follows:

"One obvious reason is that dolls are by far the most popular toys for girls. What color are most dolls? Pink, or roughly Caucasian skin-toned. There are, of course, dolls of varying skin tones and ethnicities (the popular Bratz dolls, for example, have a range of skin tones). But since most girls play with dolls, and most dolls are pink (a green- or blue-skinned doll would look creepy), it makes perfect sense that most girls' toys are pink."

Rebecca apparently believes that most dolls do not have "pink, or roughly Caucasian skin-tones." To Rebecca, the claim that most dolls have "pink, or roughly Caucasian skin-tones" is a "ridiculous fantasy story." What's her evidence for this? Did she do any research? Nope, she zoomed in on a screen capture of Riley taken with a cell phone and concluded that few if any of the dolls are pinkish. (Watch the first ten seconds of the video and see how the background colors change every few seconds; this is pretty much the definition of a flawed experiment, as she'll get different tones depending on when she freezes the picture.)

Who's right, me or Rebecca? I could cite studies about the dearth of minority skin tones in children's dolls, but there's a much easier way to do it. Decide for yourself: the next time you're in a toy store, craft store, or anywhere else where dolls are sold, look at the skin tones on the majority of the dolls. Are they roughly pink tones, or are they another color? Or do a simple Google image search for "dolls" and see what skin color most of them show up as; according to Rebecca, it will be anything but pink.

4) "Here's another reason Ben made up for why girl toys are pink: Pink is also the most popular color for girls' items for the same reason that white is the most popular color for new cars: that's what most people prefer. Get it? Popular things are popular because they're popular. Pink things are popular because people prefer them."

I'm not sure what Rebecca doesn't understand about this, but I've spelled out the logic below, maybe this will help:
1) Most girls play with dolls
2) Most toys that girls play with are dolls (i.e. they are by far the most common girls' toy)
3) Most dolls are pink
4) Therefore most girls' toys are pink.

I can do a Venn diagram for her, but it's valid.

5) This is perhaps my favorite Rebecca-ism:

"Girls who don't dress up or wear make-up are called dykes or unfuckable prudes. Boys who wear skirts are called fags or treated for mental instability. Riley understands this, but apparently Ben does not."

Yes, Rebecca is really saying that four-year-old Riley understands that "girls who don't dress up or wear make-up are called dykes or unfuckable prudes. Boys who wear skirts are called fags or treated for mental instability."

It's clear that Rebecca is putting her own spin or interpretation on Riley's comments. Julia Lavarnway, in her piece on We Are SkeptiXX, had a very different interpretation than Rebecca does, saying that "Aisles in the toy store are often specifically labeled ‘Boys' and ‘Girls.' That is what Riley is really complaining about." Of course Rebecca assumes that her interpretation is the only correct one; I'm wrong, Julia is wrong, and anyone else that doesn't agree with her is an idiot.

But if you listen closely you find that Riley doesn't talk about gender roles; that's Rebecca's spin on it. Riley's not talking about unfuckable prudes or boys being called fags; she's noting, correctly, that toys marketed for girls tend to be pink (and princesses), and toys marketed for boys tend to be superheroes (and not pink). She complains that girls are "tricked" into buying pink items, a claim Rebecca apparently agrees with. Riley actually contradicts herself at least once in the video, for example when her father points out that boy are not forced to buy "different colored" (i.e., non-pink) items. I'm not sure which contradictory position of Riley's Rebecca endorses; probably both.

Are there people and parents who freak out if their young daughter plays with G.I. Joes or acts like a tomboy? Of course. Are there people and parents who freak out if their young son likes to play dress-up and wear pink? Sure there are. No one is saying that those people don't exist, or that their narrow-mindedness is not a problem. But this is specifically about Riley Maida, her comments, her father's comments, and the public's reaction to them, not about whether gender stereotypes exist (of course they do).

6) I actually wrote (and submitted) a much more detailed piece than the one that appeared on We Are SkeptiXX blog. It's unfortunate that it was not posted earlier (and is still not available) so that Rebecca could read the whole piece, since she misunderstands a lot of it.

Instead of trading insults with Rebecca, I'd rather look critically at the issues Riley raises. Of course marketing and advertising is going to feature pink toys (since many girls prefer pink-whether it's genetic, cultural, or both is another matter) and girls playing with dolls and princesses. Most TV commercials don't depict girls playing with gender-stereotyped male toys like WWF action figures and rockets-and why would they, since girls prefer dolls? If you're a company marketing to girls, you're going to depict girls playing with toys that girls prefer to play with; you could of course make gender-contrary ads (boys playing with princesses and girls playing with racing cars, or even men in lingerie), but why would you? No advertiser in their right might would do that--not because they are part of some sinister sexist stereotyping marketing conspiracy, but because there's little point in funding a marketing campaign that will appeal to a minority of consumers. Rule #1 in communication and marketing is "Know Your Audience"; you don't pitch BMWs to teenagers, beef to vegetarians, or princesses to boys. There are lots of toys that girls rarely appear in commercials playing with.... I'm not sure where the assumption comes from that girls only play with toys that they see girl actors in commercials playing with.

I think the discussion gets more interesting and much more productive when we as skeptics focus on real-world evidence and objective claims. We can speculate all day about why a particular girl likes pink, or whether boys or girls are harmed by not having opposite-gender toys marketed to them, but in the end it's mostly opinion. If there are studies showing that girls or boys who play with gender-stereotyped toys are damaged in some way, let's review them and discuss them. If there's some evidence (or reason to believe) that removing the "Boys" and "Girls" aisle signs in toy stores would have some beneficial effect on girls, let's talk about it.

Personally, I think the whole idea of distinguishing Boys and Girls toys is silly. I don't have a problem with girls being tomboys and playing with Superman, or boys playing with princesses. It doesn't bother me either way, I think Riley and every other kid should do what he or she wants. I'm not defending gender-stereotyped colors and toys, in fact I think the whole idea is ridiculous, and if parents buy into that they need to get over their hangups. But nor do I see any sexist marketing conspiracy in it. I don't see any specific harm or damage done if a girl plays with a pink princess, or a boy is given blue instead of pink or another color. Who cares?

Parents--not toy companies or toddlers--control what their children play with, from clothing to toys. Instead of blaming toy marketers for providing products that parents are free to buy or ignore (as Riley seems to), parents need to take responsibility. If you don't want your little girl to play with Barbie, don't buy her one. Ideally parents should offer their boys and girls a variety of gender-neutral toys and colors, and let them express their own preferences.

But little girls who express a desire for pink dolls and "girlie" items should not be denied them, nor made to feel like they "shouldn't" like those things because they reinforce gender stereotypes. It's insulting to suggest that the reason a girl wants pink is that she must have been influenced by marketers and the media: "I don't care what you say, you don't really like pink or want a Barbie... you're just buying into consumer culture's sexist expectations of what you should want." She might like pink dolls because she saw them in a commercial, and/or because her friends have them, and/or because she just likes the way they look, and/or because her mother or grandmother had one like it, and/or countless other reasons. Or she just might like pink dolls, and shouldn't have to justify her preference. I think kids should be kids, and allowed to like or dislike any toys or colors or clothes without their decisions being second-guessed by adults. Riley may be four years old, but she's not stupid.

It's clear there are social and cultural expectations for women about beauty and appearance, I don't think anyone is arguing or disputing that. It's the link between that and what Riley says in this video that's much less clear and focused. We all agree that what Riley said is not literally true: girls aren't tricked or forced into buying anything. So let's broaden the scope to a larger claim: Marketers encourage girls to buy (actually, their parents to buy) pink items and princesses, and boys to buy superheroes and non-pink items. Okay, so where does the discussion go from there? What exactly is the evidence of harm, and the proposed, evidence-based remedy? What is anyone suggesting be done about it?

Rebecca doesn't offer any answers; she's too busy hurling insults, being outraged, and trying to keep her head from asploding. I've tried to provide a level of considered, critical analysis about this topic. In the end, I think that Rebecca, Julia, and I more or less agree about 95% of this topic, and that much of the perceived disagreement is either factual (Rebecca claims that most dolls aren't pink; I claim most are); or interpretation.

I'll end on a different note. Rebecca and I can disagree about this and other topics, but it's disheartening to be called "idiotic" and described as less intelligent than a four-year-old by a friend and skeptical colleague. I counted about a half-dozen insults in her piece, and it's clear Rebecca enjoys being outraged at various things. It's often the case that outrage and insults substitute for truth and accuracy; it's easier to call someone stupid than it is to engage them respectfully. It's easier to have knee-jerk, facepalming reactions than it is to thoughtfully see if there's some misunderstanding on someone's part-or, god forbid, even some common ground. For my part, I take my cues from Ray Hyman, one of my heroes and one of the founders of both CSCIOP and the modern skeptical movement.

If you haven't read Ray's piece "Proper Criticism," you should; it's what guides editorial policy in Skeptical Inquirer. It's a short piece explaining how best to deal with people and claims you disagree with. I'll quote a few short sections: "Many well-intentioned critics have jumped into the fray without carefully thinking through the various implications of their statements. They have sometimes displayed more emotion than logic, made sweeping charges beyond what they can reasonably support, failed to adequately document their assertions, and, in general, failed to do the homework necessary to make their challenges credible.... If we envision ourselves as the champions of rationality, science, and objectivity, then we ought to display these very same qualities in our criticism. Just by trying to speak and write in the spirit of precision, science, logic, and rationality-those attributes we supposedly admire-we would raise the quality of our critiques by at least one order of magnitude.... The principle of charity implies that, whenever there is doubt or ambiguity about a...claim, we should try to resolve the ambiguity in favor of the claimant until we acquire strong reasons for not doing so. In this respect, we should...convey the opponent's position in a fair, objective, and non-emotional manner. We should avoid using loaded and prejudicial words in our criticisms. If the proponents happen to resort to emotionally laden terms and sensationalism, we should avoid stooping to their level. We should not respond in kind."

Just because someone disagrees with you, or has a different opinion than you do, doesn't mean the other person is a stupid, dishonest asshole. Even a four year old knows that.




#151 Wilt (Guest) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 10:08am

Melody, “many CFI employees…” that is very unprofessional.  Not just for an employee, but for ANYONE.  You can speak for yourself, but don’t speak for “unnamed” others.  I can say, I, and many others reading your post, think that Melody needs to go back to college and learn professional behavior in a business class.  Also, myself AND many others, believe she should show respect for a fellow employee and not engage in office debate as a response on a blog.  She can post here as herself ofcourse, but coming across all “MANY employees” realy Melody, how many?  Would you care to give us their names?  Did you never ever take a class about how to behave at your job?  If you had posted just as yourself, but to post in a vague enough manner that is feels “official” or you are an insider and heck NO ONE at works likes Ben, is just wrong on so many levels.  Yes, being an employee means you have to behave in a different manner, especially if you are posting with the NAME of your employer all over the place.  Just post as yourself next time and I do hope you get a good talk in with your bosses.  You need one, for your own good and for future jobs you may have.  The internet is a place of responsibility as much as any other outlet.  Also a place like CSI that depends on donations needs some control over their message.  If the head of CSI or a higher up wants to make an oficial CSI comment, they should do so.  Going rogue and doing it yourself (and I’m sure you will justify it) shows how little respect you do have for CSI.  If you don’t trust your bosses to do the right thing, (and did you even MENTION you were going to post what you did?), then maybe you shouldn’t work there.  Grow up honey.  Behave like an adult rather than a sorority sister.

#152 infinitegames on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 10:23am

@YIAB 149

Fair enough. I was being lazy and didn’t analyze that aspect of the argument. My point was that *even if* you accept that most is transitive (which it isn’t) the argument is still circular. But you’re absolutely right, and I should have stated that, thanks for pointing that out!

#153 Josh, Spokesgay (Guest) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 11:05am

Oh, that’s great. On a thread with a sexism controversy we have a commenter addressing Melody as “honey,” and telling her not to “act like a sorority sister.”

Nope. No sexism problem here. Nothin’ to see. Move along.

#154 Dorion on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 11:09am

Yeah, that was unfortunate, because he otherwise made a significant point. But you’ll notice, THAT commenter was the one being a jackass, NOT the original writer who has been called every other name…

#155 Josh, Spokesgay (Guest) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 11:12am

Dorion - I’m capable of commenting on the sexism without claiming that all other points are therefore invalid. I’m also capable of deciding that boneheaded sexism isn’t excusable just because the target did something the critic didn’t like. It’s the same nifty trick I use when I call people out for calling Ann Coulter an ugly slut instead of a hateful liar.

#156 Dorion on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 11:17am

I wasn’t speaking for you, I was speaking for me, and my disappointment at his dismissive “honey” comment. So, sarcasm unnecessary?

#157 Josh, Spokesgay (Guest) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 11:33am

Sorry. There’s more than enough sarcasm already:(

#158 David (Guest) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 2:14pm

To John the advertising/marketing guy.

I remember reading something about this pink/blue gender advertising last year (the Guardian I think but cannot find it.) The article first give us a little history on it but went on to say that in the long run it was self defeating, as in when girls got to about seven they considered it babyish and sales tapered off from that age onwards. Whereas for boys they continued to buy stuff up to eleven before tapering off.

Is this true? Is this your experience in advertising/marketing?

Has anyone else seen the article I’m alluding to and hopefully the data behind it?

#159 Melody Hensley (Guest) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 2:59pm

Employees have already spoken out other places. They are not “unnamed.” I have plenty of respect for CFI and CSI. That’s why I want to make sure that everyone knows that anyone who posts on this blog is speaking for themselves and not the organization. Management (or my “bosses”) is quite aware of my comments and supports me, just as they support all freedom of expression from their employees.

#160 Benjamin Radford on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 4:25pm

Melody Hensley wrote: “I haven’t taken an official poll, but many CFI employees (including me) disagree with Ben Radford’s conclusions.”

Melody, here are the bulk of my conclusions, taken from the final paragraphs of the piece:

“Personally, I think the whole idea of distinguishing Boys and Girls toys is silly. .... I think Riley and every other kid should do what he or she wants. I’m not defending gender-stereotyped colors and toys, in fact I think the whole idea is ridiculous, and if parents buy into that they need to get over their hangups….Instead of blaming toy marketers for providing products that parents are free to buy or ignore (as Riley seems to), parents need to take responsibility…. Ideally parents should offer their boys and girls a variety of gender-neutral toys and colors, and let them express their own preferences.

Little girls who express a desire for pink dolls and “girlie” items should not be denied them, nor made to feel like they “shouldn’t” like those things because they reinforce gender stereotypes…. I think kids should be kids, and allowed to like or dislike any toys or colors or clothes without their decisions being second-guessed by adults. Riley may be four years old, but she’s not stupid. It’s clear there are social and cultural expectations for women about beauty and appearance…”

Are these the conclusions you and “most CFI staff” disagree with? So you’re on the record as stating that my opinions on these things are wrong, and that you strongly believe that:

1) distinguishing Boys and Girls toys is a good idea;

2) the concept of gender stereotyped toys is a good idea (or at least not “ridiculous”);

3) parents do not need to accept more responsibility for providing gender-neutral toys to their children;

4) girls who like pink items and dolls should be told by their parents that they shouldn’t like them because it reinforces gender stereotypes; and finally that

5) it is not clear that there are any social and cultural expectation for women about beauty and appearance.

According to you, these are all statements you agree with, since they are the opposite of statements I endorsed. I’m glad to have you on the record about that. I wonder if the other CFI employees really do share your opinions about this.

#161 Rupert McClanihan (Guest) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 6:15pm

#150 (Wilt).

You suggest that Melody “go back to college.” Even though she is a CFI director and the head of their DC chapter (and a paid CFI employee), she can’t go back to college because she never went.  While I am not a big believer in a having a college degree as a credential when it is not really necessary, the fact that Melody is about as educated as your average cashier at Wal-Mart with a GED is telling sometimes. You would think that an institution calling itself the Center For Inquiry would think that a highly educated workforce is a positive thing.  They don’t.  It shows.

#162 SallyStrange (Guest) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 6:30pm

On top of outright falsehoods, sloppy researching, irresponsible journalism, circular arguments, asking commenters to prove negatives, Ben Radford now sets up a series of straw men in a vain attempt to lend credibility to his thoroughly discredited and debunked thesis.

#163 SimonSays on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 6:53pm

#162 Rupert McClanihan (if that is in fact your real name):

Melody’s educational background is frankly irrelevant, and I would would be curious to find out how you know what you are claiming and why you think it is important to make it public knowledge in this context. Thankfully CFI management doesn’t share your elitism. What CFI cares about is getting the best people for the job.

What matters is her ability to run her branch, which she does brilliantly by all accounts. Both at the DC branch and at headquarters there are plenty of volunteers and staff that have PhD’s and law degrees that greatly admire the work she does.

Do you have the same intimate knowledge of all other staff members at CFI and other organizations? I think you’d be surprised at the amount of high profile activists in this movement that do not have college degrees.

#164 Irene Delse (Guest) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 6:53pm

Ben, please, please. First Rule of Holes, remember? “Stop digging!”

#165 Mrs. A.S. (Guest) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 6:55pm

And, the skeptic community goes insane, once again, debating ill-defined terms like the colors pink and flesh, including Grimalkin’s fascinating color analysis, which is meaningless because there isn’t just one flesh tone for all dolls, or one way to combine colors to make what each manufacturer considers a good flesh tone for their dolls.  Flesh tones of dolls actually have a larger variance in color than most people realize.

Perhaps we should all move away from the “girls” and “boys” toys and head over to the unisex aisle for a box of Crayola crayons.  There is a reason why you can buy the standard Crayola colors in boxes of 120.

And, can we stop the character assassination of Ben Radford, please.  If you read his comments closely, he is obviously open to changing his point of view if presented with compelling evidence.  Calling him a sexist or misogynist isn’t compelling evidence…it’s just screaming foul at the top of your lungs.  Knee-jerk emotional reactions aren’t the hallmark of good skepticism.

#166 Irene Delse on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 6:58pm

My first comment doesn’t seem to have gone through. I just wanted to say:

Ben, I love your work for CFI, you’ve often been an asset to the skeptics community, but right now, please, remember the First Rule of Holes?

“When you are in one, stop digging!”

#167 Tube Worm (Guest) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 8:24pm

It’s nice to see Watson, Myers, and their legions upon legions of  fem-zombies continuing their project to hijack the skeptical movement to push their radical leftist political agenda. Over the last year I’ve seen this movement devolve into a PC-whitewash fest in which dissenters are tarred and feathered as “sexists” and “mysoginists, vitriole has come to replace reasoned debate, and fuzzy PoMo critical-theory reasoning has become a stand-in for science and evidence. If this keeps on, the skeptical movement will have to abandon science altogether, lest we offend anyone with “sexed” equations like E=mc^2, which clearly “privileges” (*vomit*) light over energy. 

One thing that needs to be pointed out: Ben’s syllogism might not be cogent, but it is 100% valid and not at all circular.  Let’s look at it again (I’ve cleaned it up a bit):

1) Most things girls play with are dolls. 
2) Most dolls are pink things. 
3) Therefore, most things girls play with are pink. 

No circularity! No conclusions assume in premises! No tautologies! If you think otherwise, you’re either making crap up or need a refresher-course in logic.

I see people above trying to hilariously “plug in” various made-up probabilities to prove the argument “invalid.” Sorry, but doing so only proves the non-cogency of the argument; it says nothing about the argument’s logical validity. Trying plugging in .9*.9. Boom! Cogency restored. Not that I believe either probability is really .9, but GIGO. 

To see that the structure of the argument is indeed valid, here’s an analogous deductive version:

1) All pitbulls are dogs. 
2) All dogs are mammals. 
3) Therefore, all pitbulls are mammals. 

No one would argue this syllogism is circular reasoning; unless it somehow was an affront to their political agenda, in which case I’d be accused of caninism. People who call Ben’s argument invalid appear be failing to make a distinction between the general category “toys” and the particular category “dolls” (damn right, I DID just “privilege” toys over dolls). Their not the same thing at all, just as “dogs” and “mammals” are not the same thing. This how logic works. 

#168 Josh, Spokesgay (Guest) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 9:17pm

Hi. . .is this thing on?

Hi CFI. Is anyone in the organization at least interested in posting an acknowledgment that they know how flawed this piece is? That they’re aware that there’s a huge portion of CFI’s constituency that finds this piece outrageous, and not because they differ with Ben’s opinion, but because blatant sexism and logic-denial isn’t, um, really a matter of opinion?

Hello? CFI? Is anyone there? Hello?

Oh, never mind.

#169 Yiab on Thursday January 05, 2012 at 1:05am

@Tube Worm #166 Changing the word “most” to “all” is exactly what Ben criticized Julia for in his response to her post - it makes a huge difference.

If we can agree that the word “most” means strictly greater than 50%, then any example which satisfies the premises (most toys girls play with are dolls and most dolls are pink) yet renders the conclusion (most toys girls play with are pink) false, no matter how made up the numbers are, in fact does render the argument invalid by definition (the definition being referenced is that of the word “valid” in the context of logic, i.e. it must be true under every interpretation). The whole point of arguing validity though, is that GIGO only applies if the argument actually is valid, without validity you can get garbage from perfectly good premises, and vice versa.

#170 Tube Worm (Guest) on Thursday January 05, 2012 at 4:24am


You’re confusing the terms “valid” and “cogent.” Validity refers solely to the structure of the argument, not the truthfulness of the premises. A cogent argument (or a sound deductive argument)is a valid inductive argument with true premises. The argument: 

1) All rabbits live on the moon. 
2) All elephants are rabbits. 
3) Therefore, all elephants live on the moon. 

Is perfectly valid, but obviously not sound. 

#171 dysomniak (Guest) on Thursday January 05, 2012 at 4:58am

@Tube Worm

Are you joking, or just stupid? If 51% (most) of girl’s toys are dolls and 51% (most) of all dolls are “pink”, then 26% (slightly over one quarter, definitely NOT most) of girls toys are pink.

Of course, I shouldn’t be dignifying this as it’s already been established here that the common “caucasian” beige tones are in the orange range as opposed to the red-purple spectrum from which we derive the various pinks.

#172 pHred (Guest) on Thursday January 05, 2012 at 5:06am

Okay, so the statement that “dolls are pink” is the cogent equivalent of “all elephants are rabbits.”

My daughter, who is also four, when asked what color she is, answers that she is “yellow.” Her friends are “yellow” and “brown”. She has never used the word pink to describe any person or any of her dolls. BTW - we had that conversation when she was working learning colors in general, on long before any of this stuff started, so I didn’t prompt it.

#173 dysomniak (Guest) on Thursday January 05, 2012 at 5:08am

And I’d still like to hear an explanation for the disappearance of Will R’s first post, and the removal of his login credentials. I don’t want to believe it was deliberate censorship, and obviously many other dissenting comments have been allowed, but the fact remains that the most thorough rebuttal of Ben’s post vanished and it’s author’s account deleted.

It was right above my first post (#25, though I suspect that was originally Will R’s number), and then it wasn’t.

#174 Tube Worm (Guest) on Thursday January 05, 2012 at 6:23am


Just read your comment #140. I see what you’re saying. I retract my previous argument.  

#175 David (Guest) on Thursday January 05, 2012 at 8:35am

Sorry about asking a question I was just curious about as it seems to me that you are in the middle of a turf war and inquiry has been put on hold for the time being. You all seem much more interested in pouring opprobrium on each other. My curiosity brought me to the skeptical (online) community, now I’m just dismayed and shall leave you alone to continue your infighting.

#176 Tube Worm (Guest) on Thursday January 05, 2012 at 9:35am

Hi David,

Welcome to the Skeptical Movement’s version of the Cultural Revolution!

I’m not sure what happened, but at some point over the  previous year, skepticism suddenly lost interest in science and critical thinking and suddenly began to resemble a freshman sociology class at a third-tier liberal arts college.  Skeptical discussion became less of a reasoned debate about facts and evidence and more about upholding a far-left PC worldview and purging and ostracizing those who don’t toe the line. As in certain religious movements and cults, those who poke the new Sacred Cows (I.e deviating from the party line on issues of gender, sexuality, and leftist politics in general) become victims of online lynch mobs and character assassination—not unlike the way the Athiest Movement attempted to silence atheists who were opposed to a militant approach to discussion with people of faith. 

 At the heart of the shitstorm are certain personalities of questionable motives who are jockeying for leadership, control of the agenda and discourse, and who are attempting to purge the “old guard.” As usual, politics ruins everything and like you, I have lost all interest in participating or contributing to this movement. 

#177 Dorion on Thursday January 05, 2012 at 10:51am

Luckily for some, one doesn’t need to be a part of any “movement” to continue to think critically, act rationally, and contribute positively.

#178 Monado, FCD (Guest) on Thursday January 05, 2012 at 10:53am

You may as well drop the evo-psych rationalization for social pressure. Far from being a standard girly colour for millennia, when gender-specific colours were thought of in the 1940s, “strong” pink was for boys and “delicate” blue was for girls. Was that so they could choose the right colour of war-paint? I could see through that sort of rationalization when I was a teenager: if girls had superior manual dexterity that made them “good at embroidery,” why didn’t it make them better at brain surgery, too? This just smacks of “God’s in _His_ Heaven and all’s right with the world” complacency. The garish pink of the “girls’ aisle” really took over in the 80s with vast quantities of plastic imports from China. Please bring the your critical thinking skills to this topic and don’t latch on to the first half-baked study that suits your prejudices. The girl Riley was expressing a legitimate question: “Why am I being herded into a pink ghetto and away from the interesting toys?” and she deserves a serious answer, not more insults and rationalization.

#179 Monado, FCD (Guest) on Thursday January 05, 2012 at 11:05am

Funny, I don’t see pale Caucasoids as orangish but as pinkish grey. Or greyish pink. Others are honey-coloured, golden pinkish brown, brown, tan, beige, olive… but not orange.

#180 Monado, FCD (Guest) on Thursday January 05, 2012 at 11:24am

Correction! Gender-specifc colours were thought of in around 1915 and _until_ the 1940s pink was for boys. See the Smithsonian article on Pinks and Blue.

#181 SallyStrange on Thursday January 05, 2012 at 7:31pm

Obviously Monado has never watched Jersey Shore.

Anyway, I think it’s cute how skepticism is perceived as some people as mutually exclusive with feminism and social issues. To me, skepticism is most interesting when applied to such issues. Bigfoot, ghosts, religion… rather boring, because they are so clear-cut. Implicit bias, now THERE is an interesting question that really challenges a skeptic to make sure she or he isn’t begging any questions, taking conclusions as premises, etc.

It’s actually quite fascinating to observe how bias can distort an otherwise intelligent, skeptical person’s reasoning process.

But the bigger issue here is: when is CFI going to address this? Radford’s post violates CFI’s mission statement, in my opinion: it’s completely unskeptical and it does not support humanist values. I have heard via comments on other blogs that other CFI writers and employees agree with me, but so far nobody has taken issue with it on CFI’s own website. Which leaves us with the impression that CFI endorses Radford’s tendentious, empirically incorrect, logically flawed viewpoint.

#182 infinitegames on Thursday January 05, 2012 at 7:59pm


skepticism suddenly lost interest in science and critical thinking and suddenly began to resemble a freshman sociology class at a third-tier liberal arts college.  Skeptical discussion became less of a reasoned debate about facts and evidence and more about upholding a far-left PC worldview and purging and ostracizing those who don’t toe the line.

I find it interesting that you blame the leftist crowd for diluting skepticism, when in the 150+ comment thread above the only people providing actual evidence for their assertions in the form of scientific studies were…guess what, those unskeptical leftists.

Meanwhile the people who were citing discredited studies, making wild claims without any familiarity with the scientific literature on the subject….well, you get my point.

#183 Dysomniak, the Repetititious (Guest) on Friday January 06, 2012 at 2:55am

I guess I’m just going to have to keep reiterating my concerns (I’m down to five hours of Skyrim a day, so I have a lot of free time on my hands.) until someone addresses them (or Mass Effect 3 comes out, whichever happens first).

Ben’s original piece was shoddy and dismissive of real women’s issues. This followup is even worse, dodging the legitimate complaints in favor of doubling down on bad science and ad hom slurs against Rebecca and anyone who agrees with her.

Then there is the matter of CFI’s involvement. I’ve always respected the organization but until someone posts a rebuttal to this garbage that is at least as prominent as the original rant it will look as though CFI endorses this message. I certainly won’t be donating any time soon. (P.S. to Deb and other decent people working at CFI, fix this shit, please. I want to be able to support you.)

Lastly, there is still the matter of the missing posts, at least one of which I have first hand knowlege of before it was removed. I’m not making any accusations, but this looks really bad and if it is an accident it would behoove you to figure it out QUICKLY.

#184 Adrian Hayter (Guest) on Friday January 06, 2012 at 3:26am

@#182 (Dysomniak):

1) Ben’s original piece (and this one for that matter) has nothing to do with women’s issues. It was a comment on the rant of a 4 year old girl on why girl’s toys were pink, and boy’s toys were not. Rebecca Watson et al. made it about women’s issues by putting their own spin on what Riley said, and labelling Ben as a misogynist and sexist.

2) Ben has already admitted he was wrong on several points. I’ve seen no ad hominems made against Rebecca by him (look up the definition of an ad hom, it does not equate to “insult”). If you are concerned about the insults coming out of Ben’s mouth, what about the insults coming out of mouths of Rebecca’s supporters? Count the number of times the word “sexist” or “misogynist” is mentioned in the comments of this article alone.

3) I imagine that the CFI understand this article to be about what Ben originally wrote, which was on the topic of gender-stereotyped marketing (he mentions it in the second paragraph) rather than the sexist rant of a misogynist which uninformed commenters think it is. Kudos to an organisation for letting one of their employees defend their opinion and reputation. If you don’t want to support free speech, that’s your perogative.

4) The missing post (I know of only one person complaining) was commented on by #42, which explained that Ben Radford has little or no control over comments posted here. The commenter involved managed to repost his comment with no additional problems. There is no reason to drag out the issue when it isn’t an issue anymore…

#185 dyomniak, the unreasonable (Guest) on Friday January 06, 2012 at 4:10am

I read what Ben originally wrote and while it may not be a wild misogynistic rant, it is certainly dismissive of women’s issues and lacking in intellectual rigor. (I’ll not attempt a point by point as Will R already did a fantastic job.) If Will’s post disappeared (and his account was erased?) due to a server malfunction or security breach I would like to see a post-mortem on the incident and an action plan to prevent such issues in the future.

I am keenly aware that many dissenting comments have been allowed to persist but If Will’s original analysis has been reposted I’d like to know at what comment number I can find it. Particularly since I proferred a rather venomous denouncement of Radford just beneath Will’s thourough refuting and now my post is orphaned, with no mommy and daddy facts to take care of it.

#186 Adrian Hayter (Guest) on Friday January 06, 2012 at 4:24am

@#184 dyomniak:

Could you quote me the section of Ben’s post (either original or this one) that is dismissive of women’s issues? I’m genuinely curious because I read both and didn’t see anything that could be construed that way.

You can find Will R’s post at #72, and he made an additional one at #131.

#187 Dysomniak, the foolish (Guest) on Friday January 06, 2012 at 5:12am

I don’t think the shoddiness or sexism of Radford’s articles is even debatable at this point. I you can’t see it then you probably ought to spend a good long time away from comment threads examining your own biases and preconceptions.

Glad to see that Will R was able repost his original comments, but still wondering where they went and how his login information got lost.

#188 Adrian Hayter (Guest) on Friday January 06, 2012 at 5:19am


In other words, no you can’t quote me a section of the article that is dismissive of women’s issues (or sexist). Read through the comments; there is a debate over whether the article is sexist, and you can’t just waive that away because you think you are right.

I’m willing to reconsider my views; I asked you to provide a quote which demonstrated sexism (or at least, was dismissive of women’s issues). I don’t believe any exist, hence why I asked.

#189 Ninjette (Guest) on Friday January 06, 2012 at 5:47am

Wihile I disagree with Ben about this subject, I’m utterly sickened by the lynch-mob mentality I’ve seen here. Demands for “postmortems and action plans”, Maoist self reflection/reeducation sessions, all sprinkled with the most pompous and self righteous entitlement I’ve seen since I wisely quit a sociology program for a real major. In this situation, nothing Ben could do other than stand before the tribunal and read a statement confessing that he is a worthless traitor to all that is decent (written for him by his accusers) would be satisfactory. And then only if he ran every column past them for approval from now on.
Is he guilty of being a misogynistic monster, a scourge of womankind, a blackguard whose morals are no better than those of a slave trader? Obviously, because he does not see the manipulation of marketers as others do. Therefore he hates women and thinks they are not human. That’s really all the proof needed in today’s “skeptic movement” to scream for someone to be fired, ending the career of one of the most productive people in the field.

You people make me want to puke. I’m ashamed that I ever called myself one of you.

#190 Giliell (Guest) on Friday January 06, 2012 at 5:54am

Adrian Hayter, I’ll do that for you:
“I don’t see any specific harm or damage done if a girl plays with a pink princess, or a boy is given blue instead of pink or another color. Who cares? “

This little sentence is a slap into the face of all parents who see their children, especially their daughters pressured into gender-roles they’d been hoping their children would only know from old movies.
I recommend “Cinderella ate my Daughter” and “Delusions of Gender” for further education

#191 Ninjette (Guest) on Friday January 06, 2012 at 5:56am

And Dys the Incredibly Self Important, now you are claiming that his “articles”...plural…are shoddy and sexist? Ummmm, when did the rest of his work suddenly end up on trial? He’s produced far more actual useful material than you’ve probably read. And now your response to a dissenting view is that the dissenter must go away and self-reflect until they agree with you. You’d have made a hell of a Reeuducation Officer during the Cultural Revolution. Not that you probably understand that last line….probably seems quite reasonable to you.

Well, I’m off to order the chupacabra book…worthwhile reading, unlike this piranha swarm.

#192 Adrian Hayter (Guest) on Friday January 06, 2012 at 6:31am

@#189 Giliell:

Sorry, but I don’t quite get it. Ben isn’t pressuring girls to play with pink princesses, or boys to play with blue toys. All he said is that he doesn’t see the harm in girls playing with pink toys, and boys playing with blue toys. There isn’t any harm in girls playing with blue toys and boys playing with pink toys either.

So I’m sorry but I’m still as confused as a lot of people here over how that is sexist.

Thanks for the recommendations. I’ll read them later when I have the time (and I’m not on my lunch break!).

#193 Melody (Guest) on Friday January 06, 2012 at 2:57pm

Ronald Lindsay responds:

#194 0verlord (Guest) on Saturday January 07, 2012 at 1:12pm

“You people make me want to puke. I’m ashamed that I ever called myself one of you.”

I share your sentiment, although there’s no reason for me or you to be ashamed for we have never called ourselves one of them.  These people have only exposed themselves for what they *really* are: thugs and totalitarians, the the antithesis of skepticism.

#196 Irene Delse on Saturday January 07, 2012 at 4:12pm

@ Adrian Hayter #191:

“Sorry, but I don’t quite get it. Ben isn’t pressuring girls to play with pink princesses, or boys to play with blue toys.”

Adrian, what you don’t see and what Ben didn’t see is that there is a pressure in society to direct girls and boys to different gender roles. Toy marketing is only the tip of the iceberg, and it’s very uncritical of Ben to deny that it’s part of that pressure. Google “Feminism 101” to see what I mean, it’s a website devoted to FAQs about this sort of question!

#197 Adrian Hayter (Guest) on Saturday January 07, 2012 at 5:33pm

@#195 Irene Delse:

Right, but that wasn’t what Ben was saying in that quote. He was saying that there isn’t any harm in girls playing with certain types (or colours) of toys, and boys playing with other types. There may be a harm if society is pressuring girls and boys to play with certain types of toys, but the mere act of a child playing with a toy isn’t harmful.

Toy markets, like any other market, reacts to what the consumer wants. At this point in time, most parents buy dolls / pink toys, etc for their daughters, and cars / blue toys, etc for their sons. If you don’t personally want your children playing with certain types of toys because you perceive they are being forced into gender roles, don’t buy those types of toys for your children. If enough people feel the same way, the market will end up producing toys to satisfy the needs of these parents.

#198 rcn2000 on Sunday January 08, 2012 at 12:19am

@#196 Adrian Hayter

I would assume you are kidding. Do you really think that ‘the market’ is merely a reflection of consumer desires? You have had no previous experience or knowledge of manufactured desire, advertising, herd behaviour, positive feedback with respect to demand (particularly with children’s toys) and the like?

Toy markets, like any other market, and not a mere reflection of what the consumer wants. They are a complex morass of what the consumer wants, what advertising companies want consumers to want, and any other complex cultural and social expectations you care to imagine.

In a purely trivial sense, yes it doesn’t matter what a single child plays with. Most girls like to play with dolls, and most boys like to play with trucks, reinforcing traditional gender roles. While a single child can play with whatever he or she wishes, the net effect of marketing is to pressure _all_ girls to play with dolls, and to pressure _all_ boys to play with trucks. And in the large scale Riley was expressing frustration with a system that tries to pressure conformity. What Riley was actually trying to say, however, seems to be of little concern in Ben’s article.

Ben’s poorly researched and simply poorly thought-out (I can’t really believe he spent more than 5 minutes on Google before writing the piece) reads more like a reflection of his personal bias than a skeptical view of toy marketing or Riley’s YouTube video. I don’t read Rebecca’s blog, but Ben’s condescending tone (“Is it January already?”) in just the second sentence tells me that this was intended to be personal, and Riley was merely Ben’s unfortunate choice in an ongoing feud. If he was correct that could be forgiven - but being wrong just makes the piece read like some pseudoscientific rant.

Which is fine. We all make mistakes once in awhile. Ben’s attempts to essentially bunker down merely shows that we’re all human, and sometimes we all act like creationists.



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