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Warren Farrell’s Funny Footnote, and Where it Led Me

Please don't check my footnotes!
Please don’t check my footnotes!

Men’s Rights elder Warren Farrell is fond of mentioning his academic past — he has taught at a number of colleges — and is not exactly shy about mentioning his Ph.D.  (Check the covers of his books if you don’t believe me.) But the books he’s written are for the most part polemical “pop psychology” and “pop sociology” rather than academic works, and most don’t meet academic standards by a long shot.

How far they fall short of academic standards I didn’t fully realize until I started investigating a suspicious footnote in The Myth of Male Power.

While reading through the book I found myself having a little trouble believing one of Farrell’s factual claims. To be specific, the claim made on p. 283 that there is a “20:1 ratio at which schoolboys hit schoolgirls.”

That’s right. He’s claiming that schoolgirls hit schoolboys twenty times as often as schoolboys hit schoolgirls.

Farrell doesn’t identify the source of this astounding claim in the text, but he does footnote it. So I turned to the back of the book (p. 414) to find this listed as the source of Farrell’s “data”:

Based on a three-year observation (1989-92) of high school students by Elizabeth Brookins, chair of the Department of Mathematics, El Camino High School, Oceanside, California.

I was as bewildered by this as you no doubt are. He’s not citing a published and/or peer-reviewed study by a social scientist here. He’s citing a “three-year observation” of a high school math teacher? What on earth is a “three-year observation?”

From his footnote, any scholar trying to check his work would have no way to know whether this “data” came from personal observation or from a study, and if it came from a study, what the methodology of this study was, or even why a math teacher would be doing a social scientific study about interpersonal violence using her own students as research subjects.

On a hunch, I looked at the book’s acknowledgements and discovered that Elizabeth Brookins wasn’t simply some random high school math teacher: she was, and perhaps still is, a close friend of Farrell’s, credited as one of the three people who “helped me past the political cowardice that is PC.”

In other words, Farrell pulled these highly unlikely numbers — which suggested high school girls were many, many times more violent towards boys than vice versa, and which conveniently illustrated his point — from a high school math teacher who happened to be a close friend of his. How she got these numbers is not made clear, at least not in The Myth of Male Power.

Happily for all of us, Farrell provided a few more details about Brookins’ “research” in his 1999 book Women Can’t Hear What Men Don’t Say. (Conveniently, this portion of the book has been excerpted online here.) Here’s Farrell’s account of the whole thing:

I asked [Brookins] if she would keep track of the frequency with which the boys and girls hit each other the first time. She agreed, but not one to miss a potential math lesson, she asked one of her classes to “do a survey,” to keep track of all the times the boys and girls initiated a slap or punch of a member of the other sex on the playground or in their classes.

When Liz reported the results, she was a tad embarrassed, “Well, it was almost 20 to 1 when I first started keeping track – mostly girls hitting guys on the arm, occasionally slapping them. But I’m afraid I screwed up the survey. I got so furious at the girls for ‘beginning the cycle of violence,’ as you put it, that I began to do mini-lectures in class, and the girls and guys doing the survey started lecturing the people they were observing, and soon there weren’t nearly as many girls hitting guys…. I contaminated the results!”

This answers one question: The “observation” Farrell referred to wasn’t Brookins’ personal observation but a sort of class project.

But it was hardly a scientific survey, given that it was 1) conducted by an unknown number of high school students completely untrained in social science research, using an unknown protocol and 2) contaminated by the head researcher, also apparently untrained in social science research.

This would all be very amusing, except for two things. First, the fact that Farrell quoted the alleged results of this “research” in The Myth of Male Power without reservation, as if the numbers were from a serious social science survey, not from the class project of a friend of his.

And second, his account in Women Can’t Hear contradicts the information about the “research” given in The Myth of Male Power.

In the earlier book, you may recall, he claims that the ratio of girls hitting boys was 20:1, and that this data came from three years of observation.

In the later book, Brookins says the ratio was 20:1 only at the start, but that she quickly “contaminated” the results and the ratio dropped.

In other words, only if the “contaminated” results were dropped could the ratio could be 20:1. But this would mean that Farrell’s claim in The Myth of Male Power that the study continued for three years would be incorrect.

The study could have continued on for three years only if the “contaminated” data wasn’t dropped — but then the ratio would have been less than the 20:1 ratio that Farrell also claimed in The Myth of Male Power.

So either Farrell was lying about, or sloppily misreporting, the results of his friend’s “study” in The Myth of Male Power — or the account he’s given of the research in Women Can’t Hear is itself untrue.

I guess the real question here is whether or not Farrell’s handing of his friend’s “study” reflects incompetence on his part or deliberate deception. It’s hard to believe that someone who spent as much time in academia as Farrell did in the early years of his career would have so completely forgotten the basic rules of scholarship that he thought he could cite a class project by a high school teacher friend of his as if it were serious research. It’s also rather amazing that he could publish two completely contradictory descriptions of the “findings” of this research in books written only six years apart.

I’d love to hear Farrell’s explanation of all this, but somehow — based on his less-than-forthcoming response to critics in the past — I doubt we’ll ever get a straight answer from him.

It may seem silly to make such a big deal of a footnote. But to serious academics footnotes are sacred; if you can’t trust someone’s citations, you can’t trust anything they write. I followed this particular footnote on a hunch, because the claim Farrell made in the text seemed so utterly unbelievable — only to find that the story got ever more unbelievable with each new twist I discovered. I can only wonder if there are other similarly strange tales to be found elsewhere in Farrell’s footnotes.

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CassandraSays
CassandraSays
9 years ago

FWIW, I agree with hellkell.

Aaliyah
9 years ago

In fact, I shouldn’t have even asked here. Anyway, thanks everyone. I’m starting to feel better now but I’ll keep in mind all of that stuff if I start to feel like this again.

pecunium
9 years ago

PEMRA: Like I said, SRS is founded upon the principle that a particular group of people is subhuman and should be ridiculed and treated with hostility. This isn’t true for AVfM, whatever else you can say about it.

Apart from the (you know) terrorism. And the fucking their shit up. And the statement that women who dress in sexy clothes, and accept drinks from men ought to be raped, and …

So maybe, whatever else we can say about it, they do think women are subhuman, and should be ridiculed and treated with, not hostility. No, I wouldn’t say that.

I’d say violence.

thebionicmommy
thebionicmommy
9 years ago

Hmm. I’ll grant I’m a bit surprised at the sloppiness here. Then again I’ve never been a fan of Farrell. AVFM cites Angry Harry as the father of the MRM, not Farrell.

As bad as Farrell is, Angry Harry is even worse. This is what he told Kathryn Joyce in an interview he gave in her article* “Men’s Rights Groups have become Frighteningly Effective”.

In a phone interview, Angry Harry said, “Of course there will be more Sodinis—there will be many more,” likening him to Marc Lépine, a Canadian man who killed or wounded 28, claiming feminists had ruined his life, or Nevada father Darren Mack, who murdered his estranged wife and attempted to kill the judge in their custody battle. (Also among this number is John Muhammad, the “D.C. Beltway Sniper,” whose involvement in a Washington father’s rights group and history of abuse is described in his ex-wife Mildred’s newly-released memoir, Scared Silent [5].) Perhaps, Angry Harry mused, that as the ranks of online MRAs grow, “the threat” of their violence “may be enough” to bring about the changes they desire.

So he was clearly stating that those acts of violence could help MRA’s get the changes they want in society, by scaring people into letting them have their way. That right there is advocating terrorism.

*I’m sorry for not linking the original article. It was in Double X magazine online, but now I can’t find it, but there are copies at other places like Democratic Underground.

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
9 years ago

If he was the first MRA to suggest that terrorism was the way to get results then he really is the MRM’s true spiritual father.

Aaliyah
9 years ago

Perhaps, Angry Harry mused, that as the ranks of online MRAs grow, “the threat” of their violence “may be enough” to bring about the changes they desire.

Angry Harry – more like Harry Asshole.

(Terrible joke, but hey, I tried)

Fibinachi
Fibinachi
9 years ago

Angry Harry? More like Anguished Haranguing

Angry Harry? More like Sanctily Hardon

Angry Harry? More like Angreeeeh Harreeeeh

Angry Harry? More like penguins are whores! (Peter Nolan logic version)

Angry Harry? More like Angry Hairy

Angry Harry? More like Angrebet Ærgerligt (Danish pun version (Attacked greedily)

Angry Harry? More like The Angry Harry, He, The Forerunner of the Most Glorious Humane RIghts Movement of the 21st Century And Banger of Sluts.

Eveyone, join in! It’s a punapalooza!

Fade
9 years ago

Like I said, SRS is founded upon the principle that a particular group of people is subhuman and should be ridiculed and treated with hostility. This isn’t true for AVfM, whatever else you can say about it.

You are such a whiny, privileged douchenozzle. Show us a link to Srs saying that white men or w/e are inferior to everyone else, like Avfm has repeatedly said that women are inferior to men.

@Aaliyah

I really wish I had advice. 🙁 right now, my suicidal feelings are popping up after almost a year of not having any, and I don’t know how to deal, either. All I can say is consensual jedi hugs.

Though I will say Argenti’s suggestion of distracting yourself helps me, sometimes.

Kittehserf
9 years ago

AK – absolutely seconding your recommendation of CBT. It’s a great component of dealing with things like anxiety or panic attacks. Just learning what the body does (sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and that bastard adrenal gland, frx) gave me a chance to think, “I know this incredible tension and apprehension SUCKS and I’m probably going to throw up, but it isn’t a physical threat and it will pass.” Plus there’s learning to analyse your thought processes and emotions and eventually change your thinking.

thebewilderness
thebewilderness
9 years ago

This is your Family Feud style of survey research so popular with pomo “researchers” these days. Survey says people are ignorant and uninformed and survey says is the reason people are ignorant and uninformed.
Boys who grope you are just being friendly and girls who knock the boys grubby groping mitts away are being violent.
Survey says 20:1 girls are violent more often than boys!
Also too and besides everyone knows women talk more than men do even though actual research, not surveys, clearly demonstrate that they speak nearly the same number of words daily. A survey is not a study, unless what you are studying is the opinion of those you survey.

thebewilderness
thebewilderness
9 years ago

Criminy PEMRA, do you really think that saying the same thing over and over will magically imbue it with truthiness? You got nuttin!

thebewilderness
thebewilderness
9 years ago

You need to confine yourself to the thread for hostile visitors, PEMRA.

Kittehserf
9 years ago

“so popular with pomo “researchers””

I read that as porno researchers

*memo to self: do not attempt to read screen when not wearing glasses

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
9 years ago

Well, actually, given the MRA focus on “reasons why bitches should give me more sex for no other reason than that I’d like that”, “porno researchers” isn’t that far off base.

Kittehserf
9 years ago

True dat!

thebewilderness
thebewilderness
9 years ago

A goodly amount of pomo reasearch is just that. Notes from their boner.

ArchaeoHolmes
ArchaeoHolmes
9 years ago

Bravo, David! Does anyone know what this fool Farrell’s dissertation was about?
The thing is, there are academic studies about masculinity (eg RW Connell), but the mra can’t use them because for the most part they critique patriarchy and don’t heap the blame for the world’s ills on women.

archaeoholmes
archaeoholmes
9 years ago

@AK Similar story. I hit a boy in school who had been harrassing me for a long time. One day he was following me around saying horrible stuff at my back, with his friends in tow, all day. It was based on a very prominent physical disability I have, and he sure wasn’t the only one who would do it. I turned and slapped his face. I can still remember his expression. He said to me in this really cold voice, “I’ll let that one go, but next time you’re fucked”. The thing is, he had been doing this for weeks and weeks, and it had never occurred to me to say anything to anyone about it. In those days you were just expected to cop stuff like that. If some guy made you a target, it was pretty much tough luck. Things have changed, I’m happy to say, if my kids’ school is anything to go by.

Falconer
9 years ago

I don’t know much about analytic and algebraic topology of locally Euclidean parameterization of infinitely differentiable Riemannian manifolds (Боже мои!)

Neither do I, but fortunately I have friends in Minsk….

Falconer
9 years ago

@archaeoholmes: Fuck, that anecdote just made me feel not very secure at all. Which is not to try and silence you, just … brr. What an entitled, scary-ass fucker.

Falconer
9 years ago

And I just realized I should have said, “I have this friend in Minsk….”

Comedy: I failz at it.

archaeoholmes
archaeoholmes
9 years ago

@Falconer I still think about him and other guys like him I had to put up with, even though it was twenty years ago. Like I said, this sort of thing just happened, and too bad if it was you on the receiving end. They are relly big on anti-bullying in the public schools now – not to say it doesn’t happen, just that you aren’t expected to suck it up.

Falconer
9 years ago

In college, someone threatened to beat me up ’cause he thought I was moving in on his girlfriend. Got into my room and waited for me and everything. It’s been, Christ, 15 years and I still think about that occasionally. Most of the time it only makes me mad, but sometimes it makes me upset. I won’t call it anxiety, it doesn’t make me feel like I can’t breathe, but it knots me up inside and damages my calm.

And then I remember a guy I knew who I suspect knew of this first guy’s intentions and didn’t tell me at dinner.

Falconer
9 years ago

Beat me up like, get three or four of his friends and kick the shit out of me.

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