Beauty journalism gone ugly

Markus Jokela’s research results were misinterpreted around the world.

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Returning from his summer holiday, Markus Jokela, Researcher with the University of Helsinki, was surprised to notice that his work was being discussed in the media around the world – even as far away as Taiwan and New Zealand!

He had published some results of his study on the correlation between physical attractiveness and having children. This study made the news all over the world – interpreted and presented utterly wrong.

“Apparently, it all started with a Times Online feature that contained several factual errors” Jokela explains.

“I was never interviewed or even requested to be interviewed for the article.”

Sexing up the topic, the article declared that ”scientists have found that evolution is driving women to become ever more beautiful.”

Other magazines then picked up the Times article and wrote their own pieces based on it – without reading Jokela’s study. Soon, bloggers also began to analyse the news, which led to accusations of sexism and further misunderstandings.

“A prior study by Satoshi Kanazawa, suggesting that beautiful women are more likely to have daughters than sons, was also presented together with mine. Then journalists started to lose track of which theses were mine and which were Kanazawa’s, and, consequently, the articles made no sense at all anymore.”

Jokela has published a rebuttal in his blog, setting the record straight with regard to the media’s fictional interpretations of his study. However, its is difficult to repair the damage done.

Jokela takes the baffling publicity with a sense of humour, but he does admit that it has seriously tested his faith in the quality of journalism. Even many bloggers whom he appreciates have posted their opinions on the study even though it was evident that they had not read it.

”I don’t think that any irrevocable damage has been done,” says Jokela, “but, all in all, these misunderstandings may keep coming up over and over again for a long time.”

So what did Jokela’s study actually reveal? For example, it indicated that attractive women have 16 percent more children than less attractive ones. On the other hand, women who were considered to be very attractive only had six percent more children than their less attractive counterparts. In men, those considered to be less attractive had fewer children but the number of children of the most attractive men did not differ from the average.

Read more:

Markus Jokela’s blog: "Women are getting more beautiful" - Getting the story right

Helsinki University Bulletin: The mystery of the capricious brain

Text: Saku Schildt
Photo: Wilma Hurskainen
7.8.2009
www.helsinki.fi/digitalcommunications

Translation: AAC Noodi Oy


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