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This just in: conventional wisdom not always wise

Sometimes, a group of researchers put together a study that has a great design, is well executed, and comes up with results that support conventional wisdom, and people out in the world respond with, "Oh, please, they had to have a study to know this? I/ My grandmother/ My neighbor's dog could have told them that!" And researchers around the world sigh with frustration, because we all know that sometimes, research findings support the things "everyone knows" and other times, it turns those things on their head.

This is a good week for turning a particularly popular gender-based stereotype on its head: Are Women Really More Talkative Than Men? (behind a paywall) in the July 6 issue of Science Magazine took up the question that has been under some scrutiny since Louann Brizendine's The Female Brain was published, including these numbers on page 14: "Men use about seven thousand words per day. Women use about twenty thousand."

Popular "science" books often include numbers that make them sound more official, and few readers take the time to examine the footnotes -- if there even are footnotes! -- much less follow them up and verify the data included in the text of these books. We here are FairerScience.org have, therefore, been grateful to Mark Liberman at Language Log for taking on this one over the last few months.

Liberman, among others, is cited in the study published in Science this week, which found:

The data suggest that women spoke on average 16,215 (SD = 7301) words and men 15,669 (SD = 8633) words over an assumed period of, on average, 17 waking hours. Expressed in a common effect-size metric (Cohen's d = 0.07), this sex difference in daily word use (546 words) is equal to only 7% of the standardized variability among women and men. Further, the difference does not meet conventional thresholds for statistical significance (P = 0.248, onesided test). Thus, the data fail to reveal a reliable sex difference in daily word use. Women and men both use on average about 16,000 words per day, with very large individual differences around this mean.

Dare we hope that Brizendine and others who have asserted a large gender difference will change their tune? Well, we can always hope, can't we?