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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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archaeoholmes
archaeoholmes
7 years ago

@Falconer Jeez, that’s really scary. Glad it didn’t come to pass. Violence sucks, I don’t understand why some people make a deliberate choice to carry something like that out.

Ax
Ax
7 years ago

If you’re interested in more about Farrell’s shoddy scholarship, perhaps a more relevant example than an obscure footnote is his citation of Charles McDowell’s “research” on false rape allegations in page 322 of “The Myth of Male Power”. This is in reference to an Air Force study supposedly claiming that 60% out of 556 rape allegations turned out to be false. Of course there are a number of glaring errors with this claim. First, the publication of the original study is so obscure that it doesn’t seem possible to verify today whether it had even been published at all:

http://www.ncdsv.org/images/OCADVSA_RapeAndFalseReports_2010.pdf

Second, McDowell tested the validity of each rape claim by use of a checklist of questions, in which respondents are scored between 0.5 and 5 points for each answer, with a score over 16 indicating that the woman’s rape allegation was probably false. There exists no documentation anywhere establishing the validity of this methodology, and indeed the questions themselves rely on outdated and disproven rape myths, many of which have exactly zero bearing on whether the account is true or not. The entire test seems designed to maximize the proportion of claims labeled false based entirely on McDowell’s prejudices about women’s dishonesty and has no methodological validity whatsoever, and yet this was the study Farrell thought to cite (I’m told; I haven’t read the book).

More on the McDowell checklist:

http://www.alternet.org/story/19134/rape_nation
http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/02/rape-in-the-ranks-the-us-armys-dirty-secret/
http://books.google.com/books?id=bKGsfOm3AmsC&pg=PA183&lpg=PA183#v=onepage&q&f=false

I can’t find the original publication containing the checklist, but it’s been reproduced online in a number of places:

http://servemycountry.blogspot.com/2012/08/rape-allegation-checklist-created-by-us.html
http://www.veteranstoday.com/2010/03/25/military-restricted-reporting-does-not-put-rapists-away/
https://www.facebook.com/blackrosecampaign/posts/423108067731606
http://www.opb.org/thinkoutloud/shows/women-military/

SeleukosNicator13
SeleukosNicator13
7 years ago

As an anthropology student I can tell you that for him to make that kind of mistake suggests outright fraud. He probably knew that nobody would check his facts; on account it was a popular book, so he felt he could actually get away with it. Had this been peer review it would have been savaged.

Aaliyah
7 years ago

@Ax

Kudos for bringing up the McDowell study. I find it hilarious how places like RADAR say that it’s a very well-done and respected study even though it’s almost nowhere to be found. And that methodology? SMFH.

Oh, and if you’re new here – welcome! ^_^

Kittehserf
7 years ago

I begin to wonder, in my nasty suspicious way, does Farrell actually have a PhD? I mean one that wasn’t issued by the NWOSlave University of Learnin’?

Cthulhu's Intern
7 years ago

You know those martial arts classes that guarantee a black belt in a few weeks that actually really suck? I bet he went to something like that. “PhD guaranteed in 5 weeks! *does not actually reflect learning*”

Melissa Becker (@DoubleDogDarrow)

This was in a math class. In front of a teacher. So, you’ve pretty much eliminated all forms of actual violence and are left with playful/social violence. Oh, there could be some kid who will punch another one in the middle of a class, but usually it is after school and away from the teachers.

Yep. Great study you have there. Definitely showing how violent women are instead of men.

Domestic violence by females is a problem. My father has been in and out of an abusive relationship with the same woman for the last 5 years. At one point she stabbed him in the arm. He keeps going back to her when she promises to get off drugs and get sober. Works for a bit and then she’s back off the wagon. So I 100% understand the need to have domestic violence support for men.

But that isn’t what he’s doing. Not really. He’s trying to say that the men who are arrested for domestic violence are not really at fault because the woman probably started it. Which doesn’t matter. You don’t get to hit someone back unless it is self defense. That doesn’t mean they hit you first. It means that you were in danger and felt that you could not safely get away. There’s a weird theory that if someone wrongs you then you can get them back and it’s self defense. In real life it is much narrower (which is one reason Stand Your Ground has ended up being such a mess in Florida, but that’s another discussion).

howardbann1ster
7 years ago

I begin to wonder, in my nasty suspicious way, does Farrell actually have a PhD? I mean one that wasn’t issued by the NWOSlave University of Learnin’?

Oh god… the classes. I’m imagining them.

YAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGHHHH

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
7 years ago

“Intro to punching everyone in the nose”

“Advanced Illuminati studies”

howardbann1ster
7 years ago

“Welcome to your first day of class, students. Today we’re studying Russia. And the Russian language. And the Spanish language.”

“Professor, isn’t that a lot to go over the first day?”

“Nonsense. That’s only the first hour. Once you know it’s all the same alphabet, it goes by quite quickly.”

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
7 years ago

“But first, a quick introduction to the many ways in which fluoride kills. Girls, it doesn’t really matter if you die, so come line up to collect your regulation miniskirt and see-through shirt.”

qocheedy
qocheedy
7 years ago

@Ax:

That McDowell checklist is . . . fuck, I don’t even have the words. It’s awful beyond belief. The only good thing about it is that it hasn’t been used since 1997. Unfortunately, a “modified” version is apparently still in use, which makes me weep for humanity, because the only way to “modify” this kind of unreconstructed rape apologia into anything worthwhile is to set it on fire and use the ashes for compost.

bekabot
7 years ago

This is an OT comment, but:

Incredible, the extent to which Warren Farrell has gotten to look like Lancaster Dodd. Isn’t it?

emilygoddess
emilygoddess
7 years ago

I got so furious at the girls for ‘beginning the cycle of violence,’ as you put it,

So apparently she’s quoting Farrell here. Anyone know what she’s getting at? Because maybe I’ve just read too much MRA bullshit, but to me, “beginning the cycle of violence” sounds like the sort of thing one would say if one was the sort who liked to claim that DV is mostly mutual or that women tend to start it. IDK, it’s just making me really uncomfortable.

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
7 years ago

I still think he looks like Colonel Sanders. Having noticed this I will never eat Kentucky Friend Chicken again, even if it’s the only thing open.

Kittehserf
7 years ago

If Farrell and Elam both look like Colonel Sanders, I’m starting to wonder if Colonel Sanders is the Mr 90% of the MRM …

Fade
7 years ago

Having noticed this I will never eat Kentucky Friend Chicken again, even if it’s the only thing open.

Random anecdote time: once me and my dad and sister stopped by a kfc for a quick meal.

Forty minutes later, we had our food.

It was probably just that specific kfc, though, cuz the one by my mom’s old apartment never took forty minutes.

thebewilderness
thebewilderness
7 years ago

In the MRA world view girls always begin the cycle of violence by saying no to boys.

thebewilderness
thebewilderness
7 years ago

The wiki claims he has: Warren Farrell holds a Ph.D. from New York University, a M.A. from UCLA in political science and a B.A. from Montclair State University in the social sciences.

Since the wiki has no particular interest in accuracy I wouldn’t bet on it being accurate.
He wouldn’t be the first “expert” to fake his bio.

pecunium
7 years ago

Col. Sanders was a nice person. That Warrell looks a bit like him is sad. Thankfully he is dead, and can’t feel the shame of it.

Kittehserf
7 years ago

Fade – forty minutes?

I guess that’s one way of proving they don’t do fast food!

breadmold
breadmold
7 years ago

Warren Farrell to me is a fucking idiot. He focuses on men’s rights issues (questionably so) by using very absurd and ridiculous examples, to the point where they don’t even make sense. I’ve been to one of his talks at U of T and I have to say that it’s 80% full of stupid.

Kittehserf
7 years ago

” I’ve been to one of his talks at U of T and I have to say that it’s 80% full of stupid.”

That must have been one of his good days!

lowquacks
lowquacks
7 years ago

@Kittehs

Farrell’s credentials appear to check out – his thesis was, as best I can find, on changing male roles in society, back in his feminist or feminist-y days before the switch to wild misogyny/saying anything bad that happens to men is the same thing as rape, even if it’s not a male-specific bad thing.

Unfortunately, education isn’t a guarantee that someone’ll be an ethical and conscientious person. Our Opposition Leader was a Rhodes Scholar, remember!

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
7 years ago

Given the theories he ended up with I bet it was a relationship that ended badly that tipped him over from Kind of a Shitty Feminist into Bitter Misogynists R Us (with bonus incest).

leftwingfox
7 years ago

Given the theories he ended up with I bet it was a relationship that ended badly that tipped him over from Kind of a Shitty Feminist into Bitter Misogynists R Us (with bonus incest).

Not enough cookies and the wrong frosting anyways.

Buntzums
Buntzums
7 years ago

The only reason Warren is Faral is because no one would give him a good home.

http://www.teara.govt.nz/files/p19752pc.jpg

Adopt a Faral Warren today.

Kittehserf
7 years ago

“Our Opposition Leader was a Rhodes Scholar, remember!”

Yeah, and remember the jibe from the time that was quoted in the SMH? “Second-grade footballer, third-rate academic and fourth-class politician.”

They left out “fifth-rate human being.”

Buntzums
Buntzums
7 years ago

/watch?v=P6w1S8yrFz4&list=PL4N­vroQMCiyyVkArhdhECZHwl97Q5OFL5­&index=10 (16:20, Warren Farrell) WF sayd men died earlier because they work full time more often.

When I looked at statistics from the last 30 years I (Buntzums) noticed something. The death gap between men and women is closing so I contacted a friend in the medical field.

The leading difference: Smoking. Because women started smoking later, there was 30 years where many more men died because of the various cancers caused by smoking.

Buntzums
Buntzums
7 years ago

oops typo should be *said

Joe
Joe
3 years ago

As someone who is trying to understand both men’s rights and feminist perspectives, I am dismayed that any major contentions in this book are easily challenged. Isn’t the publisher at least partly responsible for fact-checking? Has anyone questioned them about these issues?

Joe
Joe
3 years ago

David, I started reading it and wanted your view on a couple related items. In the Introduction it says, “When a statistic seems unbelievable, check out the endnote. I have eliminated more than a hundred statistics from my initial drafts that illustrated my point but did not prove reliable under scrutiny. However, if I missed something, don’t let my oversights allow you to miss the deeper understanding.” I take it you consider this just a cop-out?

Also, Albert Ellis, who’s apparently considered one of the greatest psychologists, wrote a positive review. What do you make of this?