Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity. This phrase falsely attributed to Albert Einstein (the escaped phone made us now believe that it is his) represents in itself with enough irony the phenomenon that we will explain below.
The Woozle Effect has its origin in the common use of an expression by a series of social science researchers between the 50s and 70s. Authors such as William Bevan or Joachim F. Wohlwill flirted with the term but finished popularizing it within from his Beverly Houghton guild in 1979. There were scientists “woozles hunters” or missions in which it was time to find the “woozle”.
Woozle is originally a species of gamusino in the universe of Winnie the Pooh. In one of their adventures, Pooh and Piglet find some tracks on the road that they assume are from a woozle. They follow the trail looking for the animal for a long period, finding more and more traces, until they finally realize that the woozle never existed and that they had spent their time following their own footsteps circling their steps.
The situation serves as a metaphor for a known effect in academia and the media: either by using a poorly grounded study, by misrepresenting the results of a paper or directly inventing some data, someone makes an idea as true, and Overtime this idea is consolidated as an irrefutable fact, making us assume as true something that can be a lie. It doesn’t matter if the effect was sought or not, because the consequences are the same in both cases.
Why do you say that half of the households suffer domestic violence?
When Houghton put the term in vogue he did so referring to a recent concrete case. In 1974 a researcher did work on domestic violence in the United States, with a sample of 80 participating families in which half of them had a history of domestic violence. Their results determined that, of their sample, 55% of the couples had experienced domestic violence.
Later another researcher named Murray A. Straus cited that statistic without contextualizing it for a famous and renowned book on family violence, and in turn, this book was cited countless times. That is what Houghton and other investigators denounced as a clear example of the woozle effect, in reality, there were not enough reasons for people to announce that 55% of American families had experienced some kind of violence.
Very similar assumptions occur, among other issues, when referring to sexual practices, prostitution or trafficking in persons, fields in which it is very difficult to shed light on their status as a clandestine activity and on the many interests of different groups to condition the results.