Battle of the Bailey reviewers

One of the more intriguing footnotes to this whole J. Michael Bailey mess regarding his defamatory book The Man Who Would Be Queen has been the Battle of the Amazon Reviews.

Censorship at Amazon

Reviews of Bailey's book have exposed numerous problems and practices at Amazon, most notably censorship of negative reviews and promotion of shill reviews.

Good reviews get a pass, but many reviewers submitting negative reviews have written to say they were censored by Amazon, thus driving up the rating on this book.

A reader writes:

I spent over a month of fighting with Amazon to get them to post my review.

Amazon is systematically censoring negative reviews. You have to follow their rules precisely to get things posted and even then people may have to fight. I advise anyone trying to post a review to followup with an e-mail if it is not posted within a week. And then if it is not posted, it is key to ask for the supervisor in charge of book reviews and demand that it be posted (lest they be acused of censoring, which they are definitely definitely doing)

This reader's review was one of the 34 suppressed in the purge described below.

Amazon purges 34 negative reviews

In early March 2004, Amazon listed 80 customer reviews of Bailey's book.

See a screen shot of the page indicating 80 reviews.

Overnight, Amazon purged 33 reviews and the book moved up to a 3-star rating:

By March 10, Amazon had removed 34 customer reviews from the review section, including several from famous transsexual writers and scholars, and even a Top 500 Amazon reviewer (Geoff Puterbaugh). All but one of these reviews gave the book the worst numerical rating possible. I have marked censored reviews in red in the table below.

The net effect of this raised the book's average rating a full point and left readers with the impression that the debate about this book is evenly divided.

Because they are in the business of selling books, it is in Amazon's interest to minimize negative reviews.

What we are seeing is a new phenomenon called “Amazon-bombing,” where shill reviewers try to manipulate ratings, followed by surgical strikes by Amazon itself against negative reviews.

Why this matters

Book publishers and authors are learning more and more about how to improve sales by manipulating Amazon. In fact, it is something Amazon encourages. Right below an author's Amazon Sales Rank is an invitation: "(Publishers and authors: improve your sales)"

Publishers increasingly use these unconfirmed reviews edited by an unnamed editor as evidence about a book's reception. Joseph Henry Press Executive Editor Stephen Mautner cites Amazon reviews in his 24 June 2003 open letter about Bailey's book:

"As of June 13, 2003 there were 27 1-star (lowest) ratings, and 11 5-star (highest) ratings, with only 5 in-between."

Since Amazon has rewritten history by removing 18 of the reviews he cites, Mautner needs to revise his letter:

"As of June 13, 2003 there were 9 1-star (lowest) ratings, and 11 5-star (highest) ratings, with only 5 in-between."

This new statistic suggests that the world is evenly split on this book. That does not reflect the 1300+ signatures gathered in a few days from people who protested the book, or the consensus of almost every professional organization that deals with gender variance.

Clearly, Amazon needs to be more transparent in the process, as do publishing trade groups like Lambda Literary Foundation. These organizations are covering book promotion with a façade of objectivity and editorial rigor that simply does not exist.

As I have said all along, this is being waged as a war of propaganda and not a science fight. Once again, we have more evidence.

Amazon reviews:

http://tinyurl.com/2js8p

Hundreds of negative Bailey reviews in the form of signatures:

http://ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/conway/TS/Bailey/Signatures/Signature%20List.htm


The Science of "Amazon-Bombing" and Shill Reviews

Abstract

We rated Amazon reviews for Shill Factor (SF), which was determined based on:

  1. association with author
  2. excessively high ranking in comparion to average (over two-thirds gave worst review possible)
  3. gushing prose two orders or more of magnitude beyond standard review

Background

Soon after the book came out, Professor Lynn Conway posted an unfavorable review, after which Bailey recruited several friends/colleagues to write shill reviews to shore up his ever-shrinking rating.

These shill reviewers barely got his rating up out of the worst rated category. Removing only the eight blatant shill reviews brings the book well under a 2.0 rating and back into the worst rating territory.

The shill reviewers include:

Seth Roberts: UC Berkeley psychologist who has done seminar series with Bailey in the past.

Bradley M. Cooke: another UC Berkeley psychologist who works on brain sexual dimorphism. Apparently now at Oregon National Primate Research Center

S. Marc Breedlove (breedsm): yet another UC Berkeley psychologist who works on brain sexual dimorphism. Teacher of Cooke's.

Anne Lawrence (uncredited): the most vocal self-identified proponent of "autogynephilia."

Ray Blanchard: Made up the word "autogynephilia."

Khytam Dawood: Studied under Bailey and does genetics work. Coauthor with Bailey.

Steven J Gaulin: Orthographically-challenged anthropologist at the University of Pittsburgh and a co-investigator and co-author with Bailey several years ago.

Bailey, J. Michael; Gaulin, Steven; Agyei, Yvonne; 1994. Effects of gender and sexual orientation on evolutionarily relevant aspects of human mating psychology. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 1081-89. Northwestern press release

Several other anonymous reviews gave the highest rating possible. We'll give these the benefit of the doubt, though see the notes below the table.

 

Table 1. Reviews

blue = review by friend/coworker or with high Shill Factor (SF).

purple = possible shill review/additional data

red = removed by Amazon March 2004

Date Title Reviewer Rated
5 March Even -handed new book offers new insights for transsexuals "John Davenport " 5
4 March Worst book on transsexualism in 20 yrs. Tara Taylor 1
26 Feb Captivating study of homosexuality and transsexuality "Michael McClure" 5
22 Feb Where is the Research jacquelyn a richter 1
17 Feb Well argued Book on Homosexual/Straight Transsexual Men "guba56666 " 5
12 Feb A truly dreadful book Geoff Puterbaugh 1
29 Jan Wonderful and engaging "Simon LeFrance" 5
26 Jan The Man Who Would Be Queen "A reader" 1
26 Jan Entertaining Read Of An Interesting Theory "A reader" 5
21 Jan Predator masquerading as preacher "A reader" 1
6 Jan Junk Science "A reader" 1
8 Dec Clear, Concise and Well-Argued "A reader" 5
30 Nov Not a factual expose "A reader" 1
28 Nov Polemic not research "A reader" 1
25 October Engrossing and very readable Judith Flynn Chapman 5
24 October The man who would be... wrong! "A reader" 1
4 October Perfect Holiday Gift for All Your Trans Friends "A reader" 1
24 Sept A great satire on scientific writing "A reader" 1
11 Sept Simple minds love simple answers "Darrin" 1
8 Sept This book is just a travesty "A reader" 1
19 August Some the previous reader reviews are excessively negative "redpoppy" 5
18 August Compelling, Dispassionate Study of Gender Identity Disorder "Joseph Giannini" 5
16 August Wonderfully readable book on gay males and transsexuals Steve Sailer 5
17 July Not science Barb Nash 1
29 July Queen for a day "A reader"' 1
24 July Not even close to the truth Debra London 1
24 July What a Joke "A reader" 1
21 July A Misguided Reference Book "Ms. Eda Bagel" 1
17 July Not science Barb Nash 1
17 July Fine writing? "A reader" 1
16 July Junk Science of the Worst Kind: Negative 5 Stars! A reader 1
16 July File Under Science Fiction cindyscott54 1
16 July The "Science" of Gender-Bending? Vanessa Foster 1
11 July An insult to transsexuals stuttle@speakeasy.net 1
8-July "Queen" - Sorry Pub-Crawling Pseudo-science Kristina-Maia DeMott 1
7-July Stupid title, stupid book "A reader" 1
5-July Why is this book so controversial? Steven J Gaulin 5
4-July Highly recommended work on sexual behavior xxxxxxasdf 5
25-Jun The Man Who Would Be a Scientist G.R.Morgan 1
24-Jun Disappointed "A reader" 1
23-Jun Junk science in drag Margaux Ayn Schaffer 1
21-Jun A good example of junk pseudoscience "A reader" 1
12-Jun A small sampling, but a valid hypothesis "A reader" 5
4-Jun 1 of the most unsympathetic accounts of transsexuality ever Ben A. Barres 1
4-Jun No Science, No new ideas, prurient sex interest Roni Asher 1
2-Jun Pseudoscience and Insulting Kelly Novak 1
24-May A Painful Betrayal “Genny Dysphoria” 2
14-May Pros and Cons "sandralb" 1
14-May No original research Bruce W Frier 1
12-May I read it twice "Timothy McLaughlin" 1
12-May From out of the dark past "chrlisue" 1
12-May Horrible fiction "timbobby4" 1
9-May The SPECULATION of transsexualism "Chrys" 1
7-May Controversial But needs to be read "A reader" 5
7-May Don’t be fooled "A reader" 5
5-May A masterpiece Seth Roberts 5
4-May An embarassmant to Academy Press Christine Beatty 1
4-May Some stuff wrong, but something important right Stephanie Velasquez 4
2-May Hardcore sexual hype not hardcore science "Shell" 1
30-Apr What’s the fuss about? Read the book, think for yourself breedsm 4
29-Apr Junk Science "A reader" 1
29-Apr Nurturing all our children "A mother" 5
27-Apr How to bring science into disrepute andrearobertabrown 1
26-Apr Exploitation for profit "Rapunzel" 1
26-Apr Who took the sex out of transsexualism Karen Gurney 1
25-Apr What a load of bovine excrement "A reader" 1
24-Apr Read the original research if you don’t believe it "A reader" [David Buss?]* 5
24-Apr Excellent book on male homosexuality Bradley M. Cooke 5
24-Apr Gritty and honest Kathleen Becker 4
24-Apr Garbage in, garbage out "Vanessa" 1
24-Apr Generalizations and stereotypes abound "s_04232003" 1
23-Apr What a waste of money! "Holly_h" 1
22-Apr Possible well intentioned but flawed part 2 "Elizabeth" 1
21-Apr Horrifying "A reader" 1
18-Apr Outstanding scholarship [Anne Lawrence] 5
18-Apr Shameful A reader 1
18-Apr The National Academy of Science meets the National Enquirer beckster [Rebecca Allison, M.D.] 1
18-Apr Where’s the science? "A reader" 1
18-Apr Hostility to autogynephilia theory Kendra Blewitt ** 5
28-Apr Misdirected bettysgrrl 2
17-Apr The Man Who Would Be Queen Ray Blanchard 5
17-Apr Strongly recommended! Khytam Dawood 5
17-Apr Possibly well intentioned but seriously flawed "Elizabeth" 1
14-Apr Nonsense "A reader" 1
13-Apr Totally off base "A reader" 1
11-Apr J. Michael Bailey’s caricature of transsexual women Lynn Conway 1
9-Apr A curate’s egg Jed Bland 3

* A reader writes: "I really believe, but have no way to prove it, that the April 24 rave review from Austin Texas was by David Buss, psychology prof at UT Austin and a shill reviewer for the Academies Press. Not surprisingly, Cooke's Amazon review cites 'many other well-respected scientists (including Simon LeVay, Bill Byne, Marc Breedlove, David Buss, Ken Zucker and Ray Blanchard).' Now there's a group of guys for you."

** Please see my correspondence with Kendra Blewitt for more on this high rating

*** Please see my correspondence with Kathleen Becker for more on this high rating

Conclusions

We determined excessive SF ratings in blue reviews. Removal of these shill review ratings bring the Bailey book back down near the worst rating possible, rather than the second-worst rating possible.

Unfortunately, Bailey was also able to get shill reviews in professional publications, which will be discussed in an upcoming article.

Conclusion: Amazon is easily manipulated in favor of authors and sales.