The Woozle Effect


Winnie The Pooh And Piglet Hunt the Woozle

Winnie The Pooh And Piglet Hunt the Woozle

A. A. Milne, in his popular children’s book, Winnie-the-Pooh, describes how Winnie and Piglet go hunting and nearly catch a Woozle. One day Piglet observed Winnie walking around in circles. He called to him and asked what he was doing. Winnie replied that he was hunting. Winnie pointed to tracks on the ground. Piglet asked excitedly, “Do you think it’s a Woozle?” Winnie began to walk, and then looked down, and, with a puzzled expression, noted that there seemed to be two sets of tracks now. Piglet joined Winnie, and they walked for a while, when suddenly Winnie noticed that there seemed to be three sets of tracks-the third one being smaller than the other two. They walked further around the tree, and then observed excitedly that there were now four sets of tracks. When Winnie and Piglet were worn from their tracking, they looked up in the tree they were under and saw Christopher Robin. Robin came down from the tree and explained the mystery of the Woozles. It seemed that Winnie had walked around the tree first looking for tracks, then finding his own, then finding two sets of his own. When Piglet joined in, he produced the third set. The Woozles were nothing more than their own tracks, repeated as they circled under the tree.

In the emotion-laden uncertainty of trying to study and help victims of family violence, we often construct our knowledge much in the same way that Winnie and Piglet track Woozles. There are indeed a growing number of Woozles in the study of domestic violence, and as we shall see in the next section, we often have built our “understanding” of the problem in much the same way that Winnie the Pooh hunted Woozles.

Pages 39-40, Richard J. Gelles, Murray, Arnold – Intimate violence, 1988, Simon and Schuster – Isbn=978-0-671-61752-3

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Myth I : Family Violence: Rare or Epidemic
Public and professional attention to child abuse and wife abuse has skyrocketed since 1960. First child abuse, then wife abuse, and finally elder abuse became part of the public agenda. Social scientists have observed that one way a social issue becomes a social problem is for the public to become aware that the issue has a negative impact on a significant number of people. Thus, those who have studied intimate violence have expended considerable energy trying to measure and report on the extent of violence in the home. Sometimes their efforts have led to exaggerations, much in the same way Winnie and Piglet exaggerated how many Woozles they were tracking. For example, in 1962 Dr. C. Henry Kempe and his colleagues published their famous article, “The Battered-Child Syndrome” in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This article is viewed by nearly all professionals in the field as the benchmark of public and professional concern for child abuse. The article was accompanied by an editorial which said among other things, “it is likely that [the battered child syndrome] will be found to be a more frequent cause of death than such well recognized and thoroughly studied diseases as leukaemia, cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy.” Soon after the publication of the editorial, politicians, journalists, and social activists began to quote it. First, the qualification, “it is likely” was dropped, then the quote was transformed to read that child abuse was the fifth most common killer of young children. The comparison between child abuse and other diseases has been repeated so often than it is accepted as fact.

A second example comes from our own work on wife abuse. In
our first effort to study wife abuse we interviewed eighty families. At the time we were not sure how much violence occurred in the home, so we tried to find families in which a good chance existed that there was some violence between spouses. A private social service agency referred twenty couples to us. We obtained twenty more from a police department file of domestic disturbance and assault reports. In order to have a comparison group, we interviewed a neighbour of each family-thus forty neighbours were interviewed who had no public or private record of violence. Of the eighty families, 55 percent reported one instance of conjugal violence in the marriage. This was not unexpected, since half of the couples were selected because we thought they might be violent. Of the neighbours, about one in five were violent. It was the 55 percent figure, not the 20 percent estimate, that became widely cited in the public and professional literature. The statistic was cited without explanation or qualification. Most citations even failed to define violence, or worse, changed the term “violence” to “abuse.” Finally, in 1977-a scant three years after we published the study-a trade book, titled Wife Beating: The Silent Crisis, written by the journalists Roger Langley and Richard Levy, reported that twenty-six to thirty million women were abused each year. The twenty-six to thirty million are roughly half of all married women. The Woozle had struck again.

If You were abused you will be an abuser So Don’t have Children?

Myth 5: Children Who Are Abused Grow Up to Be Abusers
We are frequently called upon to lecture on the topics of child abuse, wife abuse, and family violence. At the end of each lecture we are usually approached by a number of individuals who have specific questions they would like to ask. On one occasion we were approached by a young man who was barely able to control his emotions. Tears were about to roll down his cheeks. Of all the speeches we have given, this was the only time someone came up to us in tears. “What seems to be the matter?” we asked. “Did we say something that disturbed you?” He responded by saying that he could not get married. We were puzzled. Our speeches evoked a range of responses, but this one was quite unlike any we had heard before. When we asked him what we had said that caused him to come to this conclusion, his response was, “You described the factors that were related to abuse. You said that people who are abused grow up to be abusers. Well, I was an abused child. I don’t want to get married and grow up to abuse my children, so I will not get married!” We had said that children who were abused tend to grow up to be abusive. But the young man, like many people who read or hear this statement, ignored the word “tend” and interpreted our statement to mean that all abusers grow up to be abusive.
There is absolutely no evidence to support the claim that people
who are abused are p~eprogrammed to grow up to be abusers. Even the evidence that supports the claim that abused children tend to grow up to be abusers is blown out of proportion through countless repetition-much in the way Winnie and Piglet counted Woozles.

factoid [ˈfæktɔɪd] n

a piece of unreliable information believed to be true because of the way it is presented or repeated in print

[coined by Norman Mailer (born 1923), US author, from fact + -oid]

Woozle effect

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Woozle effect, also known as “evidence by citation”,[1] is term coined by Richard J. Gelles and Murray A. Straus in 1998[2] It describes a pattern of bias seen within social sciences and which is identified as leading to multiple errors in individual and public perception, academia, policy making and government.

Woozle can also be used as noun to describe the manifestation or presence of the Woozle Effect or a Woozle, particularly where there is a claim made about research which is not supported by original findings.[3]


1 Origin and usage

Woozle is the name of an imaginary charter in the A.A. Milne book, Winnie-the-Pooh, published 1926.[4] In chapter three “In Which Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle” Winnie the Pooh and piglet start following tracks left in show believing they are the tracks of a Woozle. The tracks keep multiplying. Christopher robin then explains that they have been following their own tracks around a tree.

In the 1998 book “Intimate Violence” Gelles and Straus use the Winnie the pooh woozle to illustrate how poor practice in research and self referential research causes older research to be taken as fresh evidence causing error and bias.[2]

A woozle effect, or a woozle, occurs when frequent citation of previous publications that lack evidence mislead individuals, groups and the public into thinking or believing there is evidence, and none facts become urban myths and factoids.[2] The creation of Woozles is often linked to the changing of language from qualified (“it may”, “it might”, “it could”) to absolute form (“it is”) firming up language and introducing ideas and views not held by an original author or supported y evidence.[5] Selection of data and design of research instruments to gather raw data are linked to the creation of the Woozle effect on many fields of study.[6]

The Woozle effect is seen as an example of confirmation bias.[7] and linked to Belief Perseverance.[8] Due to the nature of social sciences, where empirical evidence can be based more upon subjects experiential report than absolute measure, there can be a tendency for researchers to align evidence with expectation. Social sciences are also seen as more likely to align with contemporary views and ideals of social justice, leading to bias towards those ideals and use of evidence to prove them[9]. Woozles have also been linked to Groupthink, where social conformity within a group’s accepted paradigm leads to the simplification, alteration and even deliberate ignoring of data which does not support the Groupthink.[7]

The terms woozle and woozle effect are most frequently cited and used in the field of interpersonal violence (IPV) and domestic violence. This appears to be linked to the terms originating in the subject field in the 1998 book,”Intimate Violence”.[2]

Other academic papers and publications have used the Woozel as a motif and to show the presence of the Woozle effect in many areas, such as school management[10], Nursing and Gerentology[11][12], developmental psychology [13] and public sector – governmental decision making[13].

Wozzle and Factoid can be used interchangeably.[14] In 2007, Richard Gelles further emphasised the nature of Woozles when he likened them to the fictional game TEGWAR (The Exciting Game Without Any Rules) which appears in the 1956 book Bang the Drum Slowly. Gelles also traces the issues of woozles and TEGWAR around the field of domestic violence back in time to the 1990’s and refers to matters “Nine Factoids and a Mantra”[15], showing how the Woozle had taken precedent and facts were not relevant.

2 Examples

2.1 The battered child syndrome

The 1962 AMA article on “The Battered-Child Syndrome”[16] Dr. C. Henry Kempe etal is used to illustrate. The article was accompanied by an editorial which read:

“it is likely that [the battered child syndrome] will be found to be a more frequent cause of death than such well recognized and thoroughly studied diseases as leukemia, cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy.”[17][18]

At no point did the original article make this claim, but shortly afterwards it was being reported that the work of Kempe etal did make the claim. A number of publications including Time, Life Magazine and Newsweek reported the editorial opinion, and not the findings of the original publication.[19][20] It was also quoted by politicians and social activists.[21] The same content was being quoted and referenced by the New York Times 7 years later in 1969.[22]

2.2 Domestic violence

It is frequently reported that multiple sources, primarily the Centre for Disease Control Atlanta, report that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women ages 15 to 44 in the USA. The most frequent quotations read in the form:

In the USA, domestic violence ranks as the leading cause of injury to women from age 15 to 44[23][24]

The claims can be traced backwards from Congress[25] (October 1992), to the Surgeon General, Antonia Novello[26] (June 1992), to researchers Flitcraft and Stark and the CDC (1988), and on back to earlier works with Flitcraft and Stark from 1984 (Unpublished dissertation)[27][28] and 1981.[29] The creation of the Woozle is traced to the period around 1988.[15] Other sources quoting, referencing and containing contributions by Flitcraft and Stark do not hold the claim, most notably the Surgeon General’s Workshop on Violence and Public Health : Leesburg, Virginia, October 27-29, 1985, held under Surgeon general Charles Everett Koop.[30] References from 1989[31] start to read in the recognised form, with further back referencing to sources from 1977.[32]

In 1997, Cathy Young of The Women’s Freedom Network (WFN), referencing newly published findings by the Justice Department,[33][34][35] showed that the claim was false and incidence of Domestic violence far lower than indicated by the woozle.[36] The WFN specifically pointed out that pamphlets, brochures, and literature being disseminated widely as both information and advocacy were false. Claims that 1) 20% to 35% of women visit medical emergency rooms did so due to injuries caused by domestic violence, 2) Battering was the primary cause of injury to American women in the age range 15 to 44 and 3) that domestic abuse caused more injuries to women than rape, auto accidents, and muggings combined.

In January 2013, 16 years later, diverse groups were still quoting the same information as fact, groups such as Stony Brook University,[37] The office of Clark County Prosecuting Attorney[38] and the US Federal Government.[39]

3 See also

4 References

  1. ^ Strauss, Murray A. (14 July 2007). “Processes Explaining the Concealment and Distortion of Evidence on Gender Symmetry in Partner Violence”. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research 74 (13): 227-232. doi:10.1007/s10610-007-9060-5


  2. ^ a b c d Richard J. Gelles; Murray Arnold Straus (July 1988). Intimate violence. Simon and Schuster. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-671-61752-3.
  3. ^ Richard J. Gelles; Murray Arnold Straus (July 1988). “2”

    . Intimate violence. Simon and Schuster. p. 28. ISBN 978-0-671-61752-3.

  4. ^ Milne, A.A. (1926). “3”. Winnie The Pooh (1 ed.). London: Methuen & Co Ltd. “”In Which Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle””
  5. ^ Donald G. Dutton (30 May 2006). Rethinking Domestic Violence

    . UBC Press. p. 28. ISBN 978-0-7748-1304-4.

  6. ^ Roth, Philip L.; SWITZER III, FRED S. (1999). “Missing Data: Instrument-Level Heffalumps and Item-Level Woozles”

    . Research Methods Forum 4.

  7. ^ a b Donald G. Dutton (30 May 2006). Rethinking Domestic Violence

    . UBC Press. p. 109. ISBN 978-0-7748-1304-4.

  8. ^ Roy F. Baumeister; Kathleen D. Vohs (2007). Belief perseverance – Encyclopedia of social psychology

    . Sage Publications. pp. 109–110. ISBN 978-1-4129-1670-7.

  9. ^ Donald G. Dutton (30 May 2006). Rethinking Domestic Violence

    . UBC Press. p. 110. ISBN 978-0-7748-1304-4.

  10. ^ Soder, Roger; Bentzen, Mary (1989). “Looking for the Woozle and Other Tales: An Examination of “The Myths of School Self-Renewal””

    . Curriculum Inquiry (Wiley) 19 (2): 207-219. JSTOR 1179411


  11. ^ Fox-wasylyshyn, Susan M.; El-masri, Maher M. (2005), “Handling missing data in self-report measures”

    , Research in Nursing & Health 28 (6): 488–495, doi:10.1002.nur.20100

    , retrieved 2013-01-02

  12. ^ Manthorpe, Jill; Watson, Roger (2002), “Editorial”

    , Journal of Advanced Nursing 38 (6): 541–542, doi:10.1046/j.1365-2648.2002.02265.x

    , retrieved 2013-01-02

  13. ^ a b Kinchin, Niamh (20 MAR 2007). “More than Writing on a Wall: Evaluating the Role that Codes of Ethics Play in Securing Accountability of Public Sector Decision-Makers”

    . Australian Journal of Public Administration 66 (1): 112–120. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8500.2007.00519.x

    . Retrieved 2013-01-02.

  14. ^ “I-VAWA: Foreign Policy Based on a Woozle?”

    . Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting.


    . FAMILY COURT REVIEW 45 (1): 42–51. 1, January 2007.

  16. ^ Kempe, Silverman; Silver (1962), “The Battered Child Syndrome”

    , Journal of the American Medical Association 17 (181): 17–24, retrieved 2013-01-02

  17. ^ Richard J. Gelles (15 January 1997). Intimate Violence in Families

    . SAGE. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-7619-0123-5. Retrieved 2 January 2013.

  18. ^ Barbara J. Nelson (15 April 1986). Making an Issue of Child Abuse: Political Agenda Setting for Social Problems

    . University of Chicago Press. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-226-57201-7.

  19. ^ “Medicine: Battered-Child Syndrome”

    . Time Magazine (Time Inc.). July 20, 1962. Archived from the original

    on 29 Jun 08.

  20. ^ Barbara J. Nelson (15 April 1986). Making an Issue of Child Abuse: Political Agenda Setting for Social Problems

    . University of Chicago Press. p. 60. ISBN 978-0-226-57201-7.

  21. ^ Richard J. Gelles; Murray Arnold Straus (1 July 1988). Intimate violence

    . Simon and Schuster. p. 40. ISBN 978-0-671-61752-3.

  22. ^ RUSK, M.D., HOWARD A. (May 18, 1969,). “Rise in Child Abuse; Problem Requires More Trained Help, More Funds and the Cooperation of All”. New York Times: pp. 84.
  23. ^ “Domestic Violence”

    ., LLC. Retrieved 2 January 2013.

  24. ^ Domestic Violence

    . © Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.. 2013. Retrieved 2 January 2013.



  26. ^ Novello, A.C.; Rosenberg, M.; Saltzman, L.; Shosky, J. (1992), “From the Surgeon General, US Public Health Service”

    , JAMA 267 (23): 3132, PMID 1593724

  27. ^ Gelles, R. J. (2007). “The Politics of Research: The Use, Abuse, and Misuse of Social Science Data?the Cases of Intimate Partner Violence”. Family Court Review 45: 42–51. doi:10.1111/j.1744-1617.2007.00127.x

    . edit

  28. ^ Stark, Evan (Spring 2002). “The Battered Mother in the Child Protective Service Caseload: Developing An Appropriate Response”

    . Women’s Rights Law Reporter 23 (2): 111. Retrieved 2013-01-03.

  29. ^ National Clearinghouse on Domestic Violence (U.S.); Yale Trauma Program; Yale University. Center for Health Studies (1981). Wife abuse in the medical setting: an introduction for health personnel

    . National Clearinghouse on Domestic Violence.

  30. ^ Mark L. Rosenberg; Mary Ann Fenley (1991). Violence in America: A Public Health Approach

    . Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-506437-7.

  31. ^ MCLEER, SUSAN V.; REBECCA ANWAR (Jan 1989). “A study of battered women presenting in an emergency department”

    . American Journal Of Public Health: pp. 65–66.

  32. ^ Flitcraft, Anne (1977). Battered Women: An Emergency Room Epidemiology and Description of a Clinical Syndrome and Critique of Present Therapeutics.. Doctoral Thesis (Unpublished). Yale Medical School.
  33. ^ “Bureau of Justice Statistics”

    . Violence-Related Injuries Treated in Hospital Emergency Departments. US Department Of Justice.

  34. ^ Rand, Michael R. (24). “Violence-Related Injuries Treated in Hospital Emergency Departments”

    . Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report. NCJ-156921.



  36. ^ Young, Cathy (August 26, 1997). “Women’s Freedom Network (WFN) Press Release – Domestic Violence”

    . Women’s Freedom Network.

  37. ^ “Domestic Violence Quiz – domestic-violence-quiz.pdf”

    . Employee Assistance Program. Stony Brook Univeristy. Retrieved 3 January 2013.

  38. ^ Clark County Prosecuting Attorney, Jeffersonville, IN 47130. “Fast Facts on Domestic Violence”

    . Steven D. Stewart. Retrieved 2 January 2013.

  39. ^ “Domestic Violence”

    . U.S. General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies.

5 External links


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