Monday, July 11, 2011

Facial Structure Analysis and You

I really enjoy science. Seriously, it's a really great thing that the world should keep working on. However, given the nature in which scientific inquiry can be reported to the U.S., I completely understand how the NSF can consistently take funding cuts. This is not to say that research spending hasn't gotten out of hand on occasion (I particularly enjoyed the cross-fading research), but genuinely important research can be affected by the efficacy of how its reported, having serious implications for both those doing and those funding the research.

Before I go on, I should say that the article discussed below is not an abomination to scientific inquiry. It is a quick article on research findings, in which I believe some changes could have been made to better represent the research and its importance. Anyone reading this is entirely entitled to dissent and I actually encourage you to do so (preferably via comments or message as I'm small and not a particularly able fighter). I digress..

Last week, an article entitled, "Some People May Be Bad to the Bone" showed up in the Discovery Channel portion of my feed reader (which is Reeder, I recommend it). Written by Jennifer Viegas, the article outlines how facial width-to-height ratio (WHR) can be an indicator of propensity to ethical behavior in men.

My primary concern with the article is the blaring objection that there are so many factors affecting facial structure that to label WHR as the indicator of ethical behavior is already suspect. Viegas quotes co-author and assistant professor in the Lubar School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, David Haselhuhn, stating that changes in facial WHR generally occur at puberty where testosterone likely has an effect on WHR in boys. Is there something uninteresting about testosterone levels having an effect on ethical behavior in men? Correct me if I'm wrong, but that would have roped me in just as easily as facial structure affecting behavior. Viegas mentions early on in the article that the findings add to "evidence that an individuals genes and hormonal development can influence that person's behavior." This is exactly what the article should have gone on to discuss. It seems impossible for the published research not to touch on the influence of hormonal development in their findings, and this is where this article could have been strengthened.

It goes on to discuss large facial WHRs of notable ethical deviants such as John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and John Edwards, and their lower WHR counterparts, John Lennon, George Washington, and William Shakespeare. I'll leave this alone because it is later backed up with information from studies done within the research project, but I wasn't aware that much was written on the moral ventures of William Shakespeare.

Viegas continues to explain that WHR cannot accurately indicate the same behaviors in women, and that Haselhuhn has another article coming out discussing facial WHR in men and their propensity to leadership (which is strong). She concludes the article by quoting Adam Galinsky, professor of ethics and decision in management at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, who states, "But my research and that of many others also show that many things can moderate this sense of power, such as being accountable, feeling connected to others, clear standards for morality, and more..." I assume here that "more" indicates the hormonal factors briefly mentioned earlier in the article and I agree with him wholeheartedly, just based on my basic understanding of these concepts.

Galinsky is also quoted immediately above the conclusion, stating that the results of the study establishes the existence of a link between "'physical and hormonal bases of aggressiveness and self-concern, and how those bases affect a sense of power.'" Using this as a focus for the article probably would have more accurately portrayed the results and implications of this study, and how they matter to readers at home. While it is fun to learn that facial structure can be telling of one's ethical inclinations, there's much more to this than just WHR and they should be discussed!

Again, this is not a terrible article by any means, it just could have been clearer in the structure of discussion and implications of Haselhuhn and Wong's study. This may seem fairly nit picky, but given that this can influence how taxpayers are going to be supporting or choosing against supporting federal research grants, the implications and broader impacts of these studies need to be laid out clearly and effectively.

Noticeably absent is any link to where readers can look for the actual study online (or elsewhere) aside from that it is published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Sucks, because I'm only subscribed to the Proceedings of the Royal Society A.

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