Monday’s All Things Considered (16 April 2012) reported on a study done at UCLA by Daniel Fessler, Colin Holbrook, and Jeffrey Snyder that illustrates why I am suspicious of claims made by supposed scientists who study human beings. The study itself can be read here.
For those who don’t have time to read the whole thing, I’ll summarize. Several hundred persons were lured in by ads on Craig’s List and other places and shown pictures of hands holding various objects–handguns, a caulking gun, a water gun, saws, drills, a paintbrush, and knives. These persons then had to guess the size and masculinity of the man whose hand was holding the object. The conclusion that Fessler and his fellows drew is that a gun makes a person seem larger. Consider the following points about this study:
1. In the interview, Fessler said that humans make an assessment of whether to “aggress” or not to “aggress” based on size. “Aggress” is the kind of word that appeals to people like Fessler. After all, his kind twisted “issue” to mean problem.
2. One would imagine that people trained in science would understand that anyone who will make a guess as to the size and masculinity of a man based solely on a picture of a hand with an object in it is someone whose opinions cannot be trusted on any subject.
3. In the interview, the All Things Considered reporter identified the handgun as a .45 caliber weapon. Look at the pictures used in the study here. The two handguns in those pictures are a Beretta 92 (or possibly a Taurus clone) and a Colt Python. The revolver is correctly referred to as a .357 Magnum in the study, but the Beretta is called a .45 there as well. Beretta 92s come in a variety of calibers, including typically 9mm and .40 S&W in America, but never in .45 caliber.
What this illustrates is that when a person’s career depends on analyzing human nature, he comes up with something, regardless of its connection to reality. Human beings are much more complex than this study accepts, and the social sciences will never understand us until they absorb a large dose of logic.