The research reported in this article, conducted by the University of Rochester, should surely win some award for absurdity. It's not really the conclusion of the research that bothers me - that men find women in red more attractive, whether for some ingrained evolutionary reason, or because of the old association between red and romance. It's more the silliness of undertaking research like this in the first place that gets my goat.
According to the article, a bunch of men (gay men and colour blind men were excluded) were shown different pictures of women, some wearing or surrounded by red, and others not. The men were then asked questions including how much they would like to kiss or have sex with each woman, and how much they would be willing to spend on each during a date.
One of my favourite authors is Professor Sandra Harding, a feminist philosopher of science. Her claim to fame is questioning just how neutral and objective science actually is. One point she raises is that the research questions science chooses to pursue reflect particular cultural values. The psuedo-science of phrenology is a case in point. Phrenologists weren't motivated by lofty unbiased ideals of innocent scientific inquiry - they were trying to prove that white people are smarter than others. More recently, research into what causes homosexuality also reflects particular social interests. Attempts to identify the gene, the hormone, the traumatic childhood experience that made a person gay have been motivated by different views. Some researchers have tried to show that homosexuality is a disease that we should aim to cure, and others have tried to demonstrate it is natural and therefore OK. Politics and science go hand in hand, but that's not necessarily a bad thing so long as we recognise it.
Leaving aside what motivates people to take up particular research questions, there's the fraught question of research funding. Research that might produce something of commercial value tends to attract funders more readily than other research. This might not matter, except that for every bit of research done, there is an opportunity cost in the form of another, maybe more beneficial bit of research that won't be done. The worth of every bit of research - its ethical merits and its social usefulness - should be scrutinised closely before it's begun.
In light of all this, it's kind of annoying to see a university producing research that not only offers nothing useful to humankind whatsoever, but seems to reinforce dumb stereotypes about the relationships between men and women, and the roles of each. It's the same old story. Men are programmed by evolution to hunt women, picking and choosing amongst us to find good breeders. We display our wares in the hope of being chosen by a strong and protective male who will provide for us. Whatever. And the idea that the measure of a woman's attractiveness is how much a bloke will spend on her is so antiquated that it's difficult to know where to begin laughing at it. Using this as a research question does little except show the researchers' quaint ideas about how men and women ought to socialise. It's like the researchers started with the answer - what they thought the relationship between the sexes ought to look like - then tried to gather data to fit.
So, what was the purpose of this University of Rochester research? Is it intended to help us ladies snag husbands? Was the researcher trying to get his name in the newspaper, or to promote some pop-psychology book he's writing? Whatever it is, it's hard to see this research making the world a better place.