Sunday, September 24, 2006


It is always fascinating to hear when "facts" turn out to be otherwise. Here is a "fact" from psychiatrist Louann Brizendine, author of the best-selling new book The Female Brain:
A woman uses 20,000 words per day, while a man uses only 7,000.
That is an amazing "fact," and I remember being quite struck by it when I first read it several weeks ago in an article on Brizendine.

But is it true? In today's Boston Globe, Mark Liberman, a Professor of Phonetics at the University of Pennsylvania, says that this "fact" has no hard data to back it up:
As it happens, there are many scientific studies that count the words used by females and males.... The findings? According to a 1993 review of the scientific literature by researchers Deborah James and Janice Drakich, ``Most studies reported either that men talked more than women, either overall or in some circumstances, or that there was no difference between the genders in amount of talk."
Liberman says Brizendine's "fact" is urban legend. Is he right? I have no idea. But one of them must be wrong.

Before readers tell me this post has nothing to do with economics, let me beg to differ. There is a lesson here: Be ready to question all "facts" you read, including those coming from economists. Don't believe everything you find in books and newspapers, or even on your favorite blog.

Update: A reliable source tells me that this "fact" is indeed wrong and that the book will be corrected. He describes Brizendine as "a pretty responsible scientist who lept at a few things which seemed to quantify her basic thesis in journalistic shorthand."