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Sucker MC’s keep falling for patterns in noise

Mike Spagat writes:

Apologies if forty people just sent this to you but maybe it’s obscure enough that I’m the first.

It’s a news article by Irina Ivanova entitled, “‘Very unattractive’ workers can out-earn pretty people, study finds.”

Spagat continues:

You may be able to recognize a pattern here:

Tiny, noisy sample

Surprise result

Journal bites (seems like an obscure journal although I’m not sure)

Press release

News story (although at least they get a comment from someone who knows what he’s doing).

My reply: Good that they devoted three paragraphs to the criticism. And good that the article appeared in an obscure journal rather than Science, Nature, or PPNAS. But that CBS Moneywatch ran the story in the first place. And what a horrible headline.


  1. Anon— says:

    Satoshi Kanazawa is back!

  2. Terry says:

    The articles says:

    Moreover, the earnings gap disappeared when the authors controlled for differences like health, intelligence and personality traits.

    So they didn’t find any premium at all for unattractive people. They just happened to have a sample that had a bunch of healthy, smart, and extroverted unattractive people who made more money because they were healthy, smart, and extroverted. Attractiveness had nothing to do with their pay.

    • Carlos Ungil says:

      I think the gap which disappears is the one the article refers to in a previous paragraph “Satoshi Kanazawa and Mary Still found that people rated as attractive did take home more money than people rated unattractive.”

      I’m not saying that the study is any good, but the authors conclusion (or at least one of them, leaving aside the ultra-ugly anomaly) is the same of yours: “the apparent beauty premium and ugliness penalty may be a function of unmeasured traits correlated with physical attractiveness, such as health, intelligence, and personality.”

      • Terry says:

        I wondered about that. The article is so poorly written you can’t tell what the antecedent of “the gap” is. I assumed it was the gap discussed in the previous paragraph, the unattractive gap (or “premium” as they call it).

        In any event, you are right that the attribution of attractiveness gaps in general to health, intelligence, and extroversion undermines the entire story – the unattractive story as well as the story in the previous publications. There is no reason to believe that the unattractive gap should be any different than the others.

        • Carlos Ungil says:

          I agree. They say that their study makes disappear the “widely documented “beauty premium” and “ugliness penalty” on earnings” and at the same time is “suggesting evidence for the potential ugliness premium”… Which will in turn vanish in future studies, because either the relationship doesn’t really exist or it can be explained away. Such is the cycle of junk science.

  3. Anonymous says:

    No scientific theory is perfect, but after each study our understanding is a bit more perfect than before. That’s the scientific method.

  4. From the study itself:

    “At the conclusion of the in-home interview at each wave, the Add Health interviewer rated the respondent’s physical attractiveness on a five-point ordinal scale (1 = very unattractive, 2 = unattractive, 3 = about average, 4 = attractive, 5 = very attractive). We used the measures of physical attractiveness from all four waves, by four different interviewers over 13 years, as the independent variables. As noted above, ratings of physical attractiveness by human judges are known to be highly correlated with measures of bilateral facial symmetry by a computer program and are intersubjectively stable. However, we tested this assumption directly by computing Rwg as a measure of interrater agreement (James, Demaree, & Wolf, 1984; LeBreton & Senter, 2008).”

    OK–so the interviewers rated the subjects on their attractiveness *after* the interviews, which means that their gestures, voices, and personalities may have affected the rating. In that light, it isn’t hard to see how “very unattractive” people could have an edge. You have to be unpleasant at times to get a job done well.

    But it gets a little stranger in the next paragraph:

    “Table 1 presents the mean Rwg for each category of physical attractiveness for all four waves, for the full sample and separately by sex. Each respondent is represented four times in the table, categorized by how their physical attractiveness was coded in each wave. The table shows that the interrater agreement measured by Rwg was extremely high for all physical attractiveness categories except for ‘very unattractive’. It appeared as though Add Health interviewers might have been somewhat reluctant to rate respondents’ physical appearance as ‘very unattractive’. This was evident from the fact that exactly the same pattern of very high mean Rwg for all categories except for ‘very unattractive’ was also observed for another interviewer-rated trait of ‘attractiveness of personality’, where the interviewer rated the attractiveness of the respondent’s personality on the same five-point ordinal scale. Add Health interviewers appeared to be reluctant to label their respondents ‘very unattractive’ on any dimension.”

    So the very category “very unattractive” has weak definition….

    Then, further down, there’s this gem of a paragraph:

    “Just like earlier surveys of physical attractiveness, very few Add Health respondents were in the very unattractive category (ranging from 0.9% at 17 to 2.7% at 29). As a result, the standard error of earnings among the very unattractive workers tended to be very large, which prompted earlier researchers in this field to collapse very unattractive and unattractive categories into a below average category. However, the very small number of very unattractive respondents and their large standard errors actually *strengthened*, rather than weakened, our conclusion because standard errors figured into all the significant tests in the pairwise comparisons. Very unattractive workers earned statistically significantly more than unattractive and average-looking workers despite the large standard errors.”

  5. Erich says:

    Comin from the wackest, part of town
    Tryin to rap up but you can’t get down
    You don’t even know your english, your verb or noun
    You’re just a sucker MC you sad face clown

  6. sentinel chicken says:

    “Sucker MC’s keep falling for patterns in noise” is the blog title equivalent of a white people dance at weddings. Stop. Just stop.

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