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Dear Dan Savage…

July 29, 2008

Hey folks. I was listening to the “SavageLoveCast” today. I know, He is persona non gratta in the fatosphere, but I appreciate his bluntness. I’m sick of niceness this week. (I mean really, how dare I not unquestionably support my friend’s quest to starve herself.)

Anyway, he had a caller call in and talk about her lesbian parents and the lesbians who she knew through them and how they were all fat. And Dan sortof went along and then Concern trolled fat lesbians, saying how worried he was about their health because they were obviously just eat eat eat eating. I think the word used was gluttony.

So I wrote him the below e-mail. It really shares absolutely nothing that hasn’t been shared a BA ZILLION times before.

Hi Dan!
I just listened to your podcast. I promise I wont yell at you about your fat lesbian’s question answer. You have every right to your opinions, and to say whatever you want in your column and in your podcast. (Thats why I listen, obviously!) I just thought I would pass along some information that gives a different perspective on the issue in case you are interested.

The first, as a statistician I want to point out the adage, the plural of anecdote is not data. The fact that several people believe they only know overweight lesbians is not actually proof that all or most lesbians are fat. (The same way that people claiming only to know flaming gay men is not proof that most gay men are effeminate.) Now it may very well be true, but because of the way the human mind works our perceptions are not accurate gauges of this kind of information.

Confirmation bias tends to ensure that any evidence we see as confirmation of a belief is remembered while conflicting evidence is ignored, overlooked or cited as an “exception.” So even though someone may have met only a few more fat lesbians than thin lesbians, they will remember the fat lesbians as confirmation of their fat lesbian theory and ignore the thin ones as irrelevant. Therefore without some kind of statistically valid study one cannot simply conclude that most lesbians are fat because some people believe that this is true. (Ditto all stereotypes about any group ever obviously.)

Secondly, I would also like to encourage you to read this article from the International Herald Times. It discusses several interesting studies about weight including one that attempted to make thin people fat that failed. Another key conclusion from the third page:

The researchers concluded that 70 percent of the variation in peoples’ weights might be accounted for by inheritance, a figure that means that weight is more strongly inherited than nearly any other condition, including mental illness, breast cancer or heart disease.

So there is some evidence that being overweight is not just a result of diet and exercise. There are other interesting articles here at Kate Harding’s Shapely Prose (ETA: Sorry to our Shapely Leaders! I hope this doesn’t create extra trouble.) if you are interested in reading more about studies that conflict with the dominant media narrative of Fat as pure evil. While I don’t think you’ll find anyone there who would disagree with the idea that eating healthy and getting exercise are important things for health, the key disagreement is that doing these things does not necessarily lead to being thin for those of us predisposed to be fat.

And this is the last thing only tangentially related, and then I will go away and not bother you anymore. Have you read “MIstakes Were Made (But Not By Me)”? It’s a really great book that I think might come in handy during your advice giving life. It has a really interesting chapter on romantic relationships. Anyway, Can’t recommend enough if you haven’t read it, it has come in really handy in dealing with my Uber Republican Rush Limbaugh Loving relations.

Good luck catching up on sleep!
Shinobi

http://fatistician.wordpress.com/

“That seems to be considerably above the proper average that statistics have laid down for our guidance”
-Lady Bracknall, The Importance of Being Earnest

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15 Comments
  1. I think Dan and Kate may have reached a tentative detente so it’s probably okay to send him another link to the site, though it might annoy him unduly. I’m sure he’s not the world’s biggest asshole, just a normal-sized asshole with a big mouthpiece… and anyway, the world’s biggest assholes have been reading us lately, and since we moderate so heavily, all it means is extra pageviews.

    I wish more people were more vocal about cognitive biases. Confirmation bias is one of my faves.

  2. That sounds so FRIENDLY, I have no idea how anyone could possibly disgree with it. :D

  3. “the plural of anecdote is not data”

    I LOVE it.

  4. Shinobi permalink

    Well there is no reason we can’t disagree with eachother and be polite about it.

    I’m such a huge cognitive bias freak. Maybe I will write a book and call it
    “Your Brain’s Agenda”

    10AM ignore evidence that conflicts with prior beliefs
    11AM interpret balanced news coverage as biased against prior beliefs
    12PM Nap while body consumes food
    1PM remind body that food is EVIL and they are going to be FAT FAT FAT

  5. Great letter. I just wonder how much brain space he is going to give it.

  6. April D permalink

    Shinobi I love how you lay out and explain the cognitive confirmation bias. It sums up so well and succinctly what goes on for some people who refuse to believe that thin people should also be eating well and getting activity; not just us “lying, overeating, under-active” fatties.

    Oh and “the plural of anecdote is not data” should be on a T-shirt :D

  7. Gillian permalink

    That’s a great letter, it presents the info in a reasonable, friendly way.

    I thought I should to the podcast before commenting on it: that kid is an ass. She thinks it’s not just her parents? Why? Based on what evidence? You’re 100% right about the confirmation bias. She actually knows thin lesbians too but they must automatically be the exception.

    Oh, diet and exercise, right, it has nothing to do with the fact that the people she’s talking about are IN THEIR FIFTIES! Because middle aged straight people all have 5% body fat.

    AAAAARRRRRGH! I was hoping he wasn’t going to bring up the “dyke lesbos let themselves go because they don’t have to look pretty for teh menz!” Because everybody knows women don’t have any standards, and lesbians never have the desire to look sexy for their partner. So in conclusion, we filthy lesbos need to get ourselves a man or else we’ll die of heart disease and arthritis!!!

    I am awed by your restraint, I’d just be screaming swearwords at him.

  8. I cant take credit for “The plural of anecdote is not data.” I read it somewhere!

    Gillian you are so right about that kid. I was so annoyed when Dan was all agreeing with her. Let’s totally ignore that it could just be perceived. Fortunately sometimes my anger makes me very articulate. (Other times I end up throwing steel toed boots at people’s heads. It’s a crap shoot.)

  9. I didn’t hear the podcast, but it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest Dan’s comments about weight. He sent a lot of Savage Love loyalist troll traffic my way last year. Despite this, I still read his column and I still like and even admire him. Outside of weight, I usually agree with most things he writes and I respect that he uses his media platform as a place to also spread awareness of social justice issues. Although Dan is extremely enlightened, he’s still a product of the same society we all are, in which fatness is seen as a lifestyle choice and subject to change if we could just exert an iota of willpower. In short: He’s human and I can’t fault him for that.

  10. So you badmouth a podcast and don’t link to it?
    Mistake the first.
    Grata is 1 T, not 2.
    Further, format your links correctly, unlinked letters in linked words is just sloppy fucking blogging.

    I made it to the end without a fat joke.
    Where’s the medal I’m getting for that?

  11. Oh my god! There are unimportant grammatical and formatting errors in my post! That must mean all my points are invalid! *cries*

  12. Fat actuary permalink

    Henry:

    Your third to last sentence should be revised as follows:

    “Further, format your links correctly. Unlinked letters in linked words is just sloppy fucking blogging.”

    Better grammar is your medal. Don’t say we never did anything for you.

    Peace.

  13. Nice. Grammatical Pwnage!

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