TV proves academics wrong, says Devine


Would you vote for this woman?   Or read her column?   Don Arthur did (the latter anyway)  …     I wonder why Miranda hasn’t lectured Julia Gillard on her hairstyle yet?

Why bother with scholarly research when you have television? In a recent study, Amy King and Andrew Leigh found that physically attractive politicians tended to attract more votes than their less attractive colleagues. But Miranda Devine isn’t having a bar of it, “You only have to watch question time to know the idea that we choose our politicians based on beauty is laughable,” she says.

In a learned paper peppered with jargon and buttressed with three pages of references, Leigh rates 286 politicians on their attractiveness and compares it to their vote. At a time when ALP deputy leader Julia Gillard is being reduced to her haircut, this line of critique is hardly a positive step for female politicians, who are judged harshly enough on their looks without being conscripted into an academic’s beauty pageant.

Hardly a positive step for female politicians? What about female academics? In her concern for the plight of Julia Gillard, Devine somehow forgets to mention Leigh’s co-author Amy King.

King has a keen interest in women’s issues. She coordinated the Shattering Ceilings: Young Women & Leadership Forum which gathered together 100 young women from around South Australia. And she’ll probably survive being overlooked by Miranda Devine. King recently won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University.

Perhaps someone should do a study of the effect of physical attractiveness on the credibility of newspaper columnists.

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17 Responses to TV proves academics wrong, says Devine

  1. Sacha says:

    I have to go there – Miranda’s two photos that I’ve seen in the Herald (it’s recently changed) haven’t done her any favours.

  2. Jason Soon says:

    what would you know, Sacha? :-)

    actually she is far from homely in person – has an almost Nigella Lawson-ish look (though I do say ‘almost’)

  3. cam says:

    TV is an indispensable research aid for op-ed columnists, Piers on why a bill of rights is a bad idea:

    Any casual observer of the US or fans of such popular television series like Law and Order would be fully aware of the pandora’s box opened by the US Bill of Rights.

  4. actually she is far from homely in person – has an almost Nigella Lawson-ish look

    jason – you urgently need to get away from the keyboard and monitor and youtube more.

  5. Sacha says:

    Here here FXH. No, she looks introverted and uninteresting in her current photo, and in her previous photo she had this smirking “I know what’s really happening” look. Ok, I’ve often been annoyed by what she writes!

    A work colleague told me that her public persona is just a character she invented for public consumption and that she doesn’t necessarily think as she writes – I don’t know if this is true but he seemed convinced of it – he knew of someone who knew her, or something like that.

  6. Amy King says:

    Well Sacha, if the attractiveness of female columnists is anything like the attractiveness of female politicians, Ms Devine may have done well to choose an “introverted and uninteresting” photograph. As we found in our study, the marginal effect of beauty is larger for males than females, most likely because the electorate/reading public still equate attractiveness in females with lower intelligence.

    Don – thanks for sticking up for me!

  7. Redmond says:

    Amy King and Andrew Lee’s “study” asked four people for their opinions.

    we selected our raters to be a 32 year old man, a 32 year old woman, a 57 year old man, and a 57 year old woman.

    Some scholarly research, that!

  8. Ken Parish says:

    Andrew Leigh deals with this point in his most recent post:

    At the end of her column, Miranda Devine goes on to question whether four raters is sufficient. As Amy and I show, the four sets of ratings are very highly correlated. In the beauty literature (yes, there is such a thing), this is known as the finding that “beauty is not in the eye of the beholder”

  9. Redmond says:

    I do have some idea about statistics and sampling.
    Do you seriously accept Ken that a group of 4 is a representative sample of the Australian electorate?
    This should cut down expenses for Morgan Gallup, McNair Anderson, AC Nielsen and the like.
    Claiming that “most beauty studies only use a handful of raters” cuts no ice with me.
    Then our researchers replace one of their ‘representative’ sample, because they don’t like how the rater is rating!

    Why bother with scholarly research, in deed!

  10. Redmond says:

    Is sneering at me by comparing me to Divine an example of Argumentum Ad Feminam?

    According of statistical theory, a sample of 4 has a margin of error of 50%.
    Tossing a coin is not scholarly research.

    For a 5% margin of error, you need a sample of 400.

  11. Sacha says:

    On a related topic, I was disappointed that there was a story on Julia Gillard’s marital status or hair in the weekend’s SMH or Australian. Just don’t publish these silly stories – how hard is that?

  12. Frank Ashe says:


    As you “do have some ideas about statistics and sampling, then, when you think about this a little more, you’ll soon realise that whether you need 4 or 400 depends on what you are looking for. In this case if we wanted an idea of the average ranking of the politicians then a larger sample would be needed. But if we want to look at the correlation between pairs of rankers then 4 people will give a good start to guessing the statistical significance, if the sample is chosen to minimise the likely correlation between rankers, as in this case.

    The study is not completely convincing, from a statistical viewpoint, but it is very suggestive, from a statistical viewpoint.

  13. Redmond says:

    Sure, Frank

    good start to guessing, the statistical significance

    I still don’t call guessing, ‘scholarly research’.

  14. Redmond – you are being silly. You may not know it but you are. For reasons others have explained (but shouldn’t have had to).

  15. Don Wigan says:

    “…that she doesn’t necessarily think as she writes -…” -Sacha

    Just about all of us agree with that.

  16. Andrew Leigh says:

    Redmond, the number of raters should not be confused with our sample size. Our sample size is 286 – that’s how many political candidates were in the sample. What you’re focusing on is how we measure our key independent variable. A study about the relationship between earnings and education would typically only have one measurement per person, since we think that what you tell the first surveyer is probably very close to what you’d tell a second surveyer. Here, we felt it was useful to have multiple measurements of beauty, so we chose 4 (as do many other studies in the beauty literature). Econometrically, if it really is the case that we have too few raters, it should cause measurement error, biasing our beauty coefficients towards zero. Which means that if we wrote a study saying that beauty has no effect on voting behaviour, you might well have argued that this was because our measure of beauty was too noisy. But the reverse doesn’t hold.

    Don, you may be interested to know that I wrote to the SMH, asking for a correction (I don’t like having coauthors left off media articles – whether they’re positive or negative). I received a response back today:
    “Thank you for your email about the article, “Cinemagoers give it a miss as film industry loses plot”, published on December 10. A note has been added to the archived article, acknowledging the co-author of the report, Amy King.”.
    No note has yet been added, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that their web-designers take some time to implement such things.

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