I was really disappointed in last night’s Mythbusters. It had 4 segments, comparing men and women in 4 cliched areas:
-Asking for directions
-Throws like a girl
I’ll take them one by one:
-Asking for directions: This was the most interesting and least objectionable one, and in fact I thought it was generally pretty well set up. My only real issue with it was that it did seem like the first guy who didn’t ask for directions was at least somewhat influenced by thinking that he was already being tested in some way, so maybe had he just been out for a drive under normal circumstances he would have been more willing to stop. But that’s a minor issue, and it was certainly an interesting result (9/10 men and 9/10 women asked for directions, the men on average actually asking sooner)
-Parallel parking: Not terrible, and I actually would have thought that the cliche would have been that women were worse parkers. Again, my only minor complaint being one of observational interference. Did the fact that the people knew they were being judged cause them to park differently than they otherwise would have? In particluar, were the men rushing and trying to show off for the camera? They could easily have done this one much like the previous one… give people directions to go to a certain address, where there’s deliberately only one parking space anywhere nearby, and record them parking secretly. Result: nearly a tie on average, with the women having a much higher variance of scores (ie, men were all adequate, women were either very good or very bad).
-Throws like a girl: kind of interesting, except that there was a comically inadequate sample size, particularly ironic given that they specifically mentioned the importance of sample size for some of the other experiments. I would also like to have seen something trying to correct for experience… ie, try to get boys and girls of the same age who have been playing team sports for equivalent numbers of years, etc. Also, when the showed the female softball pitcher and claimed that her form was just like the male baseball pitcher, it patently wasn’t, not at all surprising given that softball pitching is underhand. There are (not many, but some) serious female baseball players, they could have found one of those. So some interesting stuff to watch, but in no way demonstrating anything at all.
-Multitasking: This one pissed me off by far the most, because they chose tasks which, at least in the past, have had heavy gender bias. They could have chosen a variety of tasks that no one had any experience with at all. Or, even better, if they’re really trying to test multitasking, had each person do the tasks in serial first with no distractions, and then while trying to multitask, and seen how efficiently they could multitask them. Furthermore, they first edited it to make it look like almost all the women were great at it and almost all the men were humorous Mr.-Mom-style clods, and then the final averages were pretty close (72 to 64?), and then they acted as if that was some huge and significant data point. All in all, badly thought out from beginning to end.
Granted, the relationship between Mythbusters and actual science is often purely symbolic, but I’ve rarely found it to be this lacking.