Bogus trend of the week: The Times'Sunday Styles sectiondiscovers dudes loving cats.

Media criticism.
Oct. 7 2008 2:59 PM

Bogus Trend of the Week: Dudes With Cats

The New York Times' Sunday Styles sectiondetects a new craze.

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Ellin argues against her thesis—such as it is—when she catalogues a number of famous guys who have owned cats: Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Victor Hugo, and Marlon Brando. But why stop there? The Ruling Cats and Dogs Web site alleges that Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Nostradamus, Edward Lear, Sir Walter Scott, Isaac Newton, and Michel de Montaigne loved cats. I cannot vouch for the scholarship behind CitizenLunchBox's list of celebrities-who-owned-cats, but more than half of them were males, and I'd guess that most were straight, if not single.

The article's silliest overreach comes when it extrapolates a cat-guy explosion from the observation that men are "posting photographs and videos of their little buddies on YouTube and on Web sites like menandcats.com, and Twittering about them to anyone who will listen." But guys are posting all kinds of stuff everywhere. Dudes digging cats is a trend only if everything on the Web is a trend.

Perhaps Ellin and Sunday Styles innocently perceive an increase in single, straight, male cat owners because the U.S. cat population is on the rise, as the pet-food industry reports. But if the percentage of single, straight, male cat owners isn't increasing significantly, there's no trend and therefore no story.

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Gutted of its dubious facts and thrown bleeding onto a chain link fence, "Sorry, Fido, It's Just a Guy Thing" quickly evaporates. It's one of those works of journalism that leaves its readers dumber than it found them.

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How to write a bogus trend story: Start with something you wish were on the rise. State that rise as a fact. Allow that there are no facts, surveys, or test results to support such a fact. Use and reuse the word seems. Collect anecdotes and sprinkle liberally. Drift from your original point as far as you can to collect other data points. Add liberally. Finish with an upbeat quotation like "My cat takes priority over the new relationship. Realistically, unless there's something absolutely amazing about [the woman I'm dating], he wins." Send bogus trend stories to  slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

Track my errors: This hand-built RSS feed will ring every time Slate runs a "Press Box" correction. For e-mail notification of errors in this specific column, type the word Cats in the subject head of an e-mail message, and send it to slate.pressbox@gmail.com.

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.