People are losing their shit over an article posted on CNN titled Do Hormones Drive Women’s Votes? Rather than stand by their journalist and the story, CNN has reacted by pulling it down because “after further review it was determined that some elements of the story did not meet the editorial standards of CNN.” That’s corp-speak for “people got pissed off and we caved.”
I found a mirror of the original story and took the liberty of copying it down and hosting it if you’re interested in reading it.
First, here’s a summary of the findings, which are about to be published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Psychological Science, that indicate that women’s monthly hormone levels have a measurable, predictable effect on whether they support Obama or Romney, and that this effect is contingent on whether the woman is married.
In the new study’s first experiment, Kristina Durante of the University of Texas, San Antonio and colleagues conducted an internet survey of 275 women who were not taking hormonal contraception and had regular menstrual cycles. About 55% were in committed relationships, including marriage.
They found that women at their most fertile times of the month were less likely to be religious if they were single, and more likely to be religious if they were in committed relationships.
Now for the even more controversial part: 502 women, also with regular periods and not taking hormonal contraception, were surveyed on voting preferences and a variety of political issues.The researchers found that during the fertile time of the month, when levels of the hormone estrogen are high, single women appeared more likely to vote for Obama and committed women appeared more likely to vote for Romney, by a margin of at least 20%, Durante said. This seems to be the driver behind the researchers’ overall observation that single women were inclined toward Obama and committed women leaned toward Romney.
These are the hard facts of the study. The primary researcher (who is a woman) goes on to speculate as to why, evolutionarily speaking, this might be the case. More on that later.
I’m pretty angry about this situation as well, although for a different reason than most people. Simply stated, I’m sick to death of the increasingly common attitude (especially among my liberal, college-educated peers) that any scientific study that contradicts certain egalitarian beliefs they hold must be “bad science.” Here’s a particularly juicy example of this sentiment:
Ugh. It’s really difficult for women to represent themselves as more than just a collection of lady parts when an article like this is published. CNN gave space to an article describing a “study” that suggests women’s voting preferences are dictated by their hormones. Yes, really.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts. A peer reviewed study whose conclusions you find offensive isn’t a “study,” with deriding air-quotes. Your subjective evaluation of its conclusions affect the data exactly 0.0%. Scientific inquiry doesn’t give two shits whether a conclusion is morally or ethically right; it only can tell us whether something is factually true. And until I see some peer-reviewed evidence to the contrary, I’m going to accept these findings as fact — because that’s what rational, scientific skeptics do. You don’t get to pick and choose which objective, peer-reviewed facts you believe in and still call yourself a rational human being.
Anyone with a basic understanding of biology should be relatively unsurprised by the notion that hormone levels influence behavior in measurable, predictable ways. It’s part of why strippers make twice as much at peak fertility than during menses. And men’s aggression-causing testosterone levels decline sharply after becoming a father, and even more so when sleeping with an infant. It’s fine to be upset about these facts — there’s nothing “fair” or “right” about them. It’s not fine to denounce them as “bad science” because you experienced some negative emotions when you learned them. If that’s your first inclination, then you need to understand that you’re not guiding your belief system by rational means.
If you’re upset about these findings, then you should concentrate your ire on the speculation made by the lead researcher. These explanations sound plausible from an evolutionary perspective, but since they’re not falsifiable they remain idle speculation. I’ve decided to give the liberals of the internet the benefit of the doubt and assume this portion is what tweaked their outrage so mightily.
Here’s how Durante explains this: When women are ovulating, they “feel sexier,” and therefore lean more toward liberal attitudes on abortion and marriage equality. Married women have the same hormones firing, but tend to take the opposite viewpoint on these issues, she says.
“I think they’re overcompensating for the increase of the hormones motivating them to have sex with other men,” she said. It’s a way of convincing themselves that they’re not the type to give in to such sexual urges, she said.
Durante’s previous research found that women’s ovulation cycles also influence their shopping habits, buying sexier clothes during their most fertile phase.
“We still have the ovulatory hormones that have the same impact on female brains as across other species,” she said. We want sex and we want it with the best mate we can get. “But there are some high costs that come with it,” she said, particularly for women who are already in committed relationships.
I can understand why women would find the idea that they’re influenced by hormones insulting, because it takes away their agency. To those women I say: welcome to the 21st century, where every advancement in neuroscience and genetics reveals that our agency is a tiny bit more of a fraudulent conceit than it was the day before.