Saturday, December 7, 2013

Fair and Balanced - Some thoughts on research and media

This started out as a comment on Fierce Freethinking Fatties - this post in particular Fair and Balanced, but I soon saw that it was becoming a post in itself, and was going to end up hijacking any comment thread that followed. So here it is, on my blog, as an explanation for why I have a problem with research, and a real problem with the media. I can remember a time when a reporter wrote an article/story and followed the rules I was taught in every writing class I ever took - every story should contain a Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How in order to be complete. Most of the articles I read in the news now don't come close to containing all of those prerequisites. Most of the news today is slanted/biased, it's not objective, it's trying to press some agenda for some group or other, and it's more interested in headlines and making money than it is in actually informing the public. It's all about soundbites and what will bring in the readers, even if it's just for that one item - who knows, maybe another one of those soundbites will capture readers' attention for the 10 seconds it takes to read it and move on to the next item. That's not informing us, that's not educating us about what's happening in the world and what it means for us.
After 50+ years of being told I'm fat, in a tone that makes it perfectly clear that being fat is not acceptable, and when, for the first 18 years of my 60 years of life, realizing that I wasn't actually fat at all, yeah, I get pissed when science is used to beat me over the head and tell me how unacceptable and unworthy I am. When you've been hearing that shit for as long as I have, it's really difficult to find the energy to dig deep enough to find what's under those headlines that people beat me (and other fat people) over the head with all the time. When every commercial tells me I'm disgusting, lazy, ugly, useless, dirty, stupid, and a worthless piece of shit, which, by the way, just reinforces everything my mother used to say to me, it's difficult to even want to dig deep enough to find out what those studies really said, especially when some of them are so poorly designed in the first place - whether that's because the researchers didn't care, were biased, or had a specific agenda in mind, or whatever other reasons there may be. So the healthy skepticism I had when I was younger has turned into cynicism and anger. I think my anger is justified - after all, 50+ years of being treated like shit, not only by people who don't know me, but by family, who were supposed to love me and support me, simply because they "think" I'm fat (whether I was or not), well, that anger is damned difficult to get over and it bleeds over into too many areas of my life, my writing included.
I don't have a problem with science itself. My problem is with the people who use science. Everyone has biases and prejudices about one or more areas, some of them are conscious, some are not. Those biases/prejudices are sometimes reflected in their work, whether it's running a business or doing research. The conscious biases/prejudices can be controlled for, if the researcher is honest, but the unconscious ones creep in and skew the results. Data is left out that should have been included, data that should have been left out is included - that skews the results, whether it's intentional or not. So it's not really science itself with which I have a problem, it's the researchers who use that science to continually browbeat people who don't conform to the "norm", whatever that is (and the "norm" seems to change every few years, depending on what society thinks it should be, which has no place in research, imo). It's the media who have forgotten how to research their news articles before they publish them with whom I have a problem. It's society which says how you look is more important than who you are with whom I have a problem.
I just don't have the energy, the ambition, or the time to devote to digging that deeply into research studies to find out every reason why they say what they say. I'm intelligent, but I don't have the formal education to understand the science behind those studies. I had one year of science in high school, one year of higher math (algebra), and the college education I have was to either become a mechanic or do data entry (not a lot of math or science required for either of those career paths). I spent two and a half years trying to get an AAS, and had to drop out because raising a child alone, working, and going to school was more than I could handle at the time (not to mention that trying to do all of that while dealing with an abusive mother and a really dysfunctional family didn't help matters any). To be honest, most of the education I have is from the voracious reading I've done all my life - I've learned more from the over 20,000 books I've read in my lifetime than I ever learned in school. But that doesn't replace a college education in science, statistics, math, psychology, sociology, etc. So while my life experience and the knowledge I've managed to glean on my own enable me to look at a study and say "There's something wrong here, this doesn't make sense", I just don't have the necessary educational background to be able to articulate that in ways that are accepted by people who do have that background. And I'm coming late to this FA/SA/HAES battle (I've only known about it for the last 7 years), so I'm also trying to be an activist while dealing with several health issues that affect my memory, energy levels, and ability to get things done in a timely manner. So when people look at my blog posts and point out my deficiencies, they're not telling me anything I don't already know, and it just seems like another attack, another way of telling me that I'm stupid, another way of telling me that I don't matter, that my opinions don't matter. All of which I heard from my mother and other family members for the first 40 years of my life (until I told them all to eat shit and bark at the moon, that they were no longer my family if they couldn't respect me or my boundaries).
I'm not sure, but I'm beginning to think that maybe I should just quit blogging about the things I'm passionate about if they involve research or science. Maybe I should stick to blogging about surviving abuse, about books, about the things I do know quite a bit about and leave the science and research to others who have more time, more energy, and more ambition to do the deep digging than I have. I really appreciate the fact that Shannon took the time and did so much work to explain the research behind that news article - "Fat and Fit - A Myth?". I just can't do that, so any posts I may do about research that slams fat people are not going to be that in-depth - I just don't have the spoons to do that much work on a post (and if I try to spread it out over the course of several days, my train of thought gets derailed, never to get back on track in a manner that makes any sense).
Thanks to those of you who took the time to read this, I hope it explains some of the reasons why my blog posts don't "measure up" for some people.