Psychological Sex Differences
I could not help but feel as if Cordelia Fine is straw-manning the scientific understanding of biological sex differences by quoting weak research in her chapter on “Brain Scams” from her book, Delusions of Gender.
I wanted to briefly reflect on some of them. Let me know what you think in the comments section or by reaching out to me on social media! Links are included at the end of this post.
She quotes John Gray’s Why Mars and Venus Collide where Gray discusses the inferior parietal lobe (IPL) and comments that a man has a larger left IPL compared to the female counterpart and credulously remarks that, since the IPL helps our “perception of time” it explains why men become impatient when women talk for long.
This, frankly, does not seem like science to me and begs the question as to why, if so blatantly untrue, does it get much credence from Fine or why it should be a detested claim. A similarly bizarre claim that is mentioned is the “fact” that men are more logical, requiring data and proof in leadership, whereas women seek less evidence in support of their conclusions, quoting Gurian and Annis in Leadership and the Sexes.
Fine rightly claims that the physiology in men and women may, in fact, be slightly different. We would have a difficult time disagreeing with that. What we can disagree with, however, is the “intuitive leaps from brain structure to psychological function” (157).
Problems abound here.
One of the most known intellectuals that argue for this point is Louann Brizendine, director of the University of California-San Francisco Women’s Mood and Hormone Clinic who discusses some of these psychological distinctions in her book, The Female Brain. Because of Brizendine’s credentials, the average reader might find her ideas convincing since her credentials are indeed impressive.
As an alumnus of Harvard Medical School, the University of California-Berkeley, and Yale School of Medicine, she would seem to be a reputable source to quote on this matter. However, as Fine points out in her chapter, all authorities are susceptible to bias and erroneous thinking. It must be frustrating to see someone get so much recognition, especially since sex differences sell as popular psychology and science books. Thus, I can recognize Fine’s much-warranted frustrations. She writes that the book is “riddled with scientific errors and is misleading about the processes of brain development” (158).
Fine elaborates on more troubling conclusions that are made by neuroscientists across the academic spectrum and concludes that there are, no doubt, positive intentions in conducting these experiments are writing books on the topic, however, “promoting that cause by projecting gender stereotypes onto brain data is worse than useless” (162).
Is There a Problem With the Scientific Method?
I enjoy reading science books from Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Daniel C. Dennett (on mind development & consciousness), Paul Bloom, Robert Sapolsky, and many others and so I am saddened to hear that bias is so entrenched in academia that it allows for poor science and poor thinking.
This, for apparent reasons, makes me question many of the conclusions individuals make with their experiments. I do not have an answer, unfortunately, as to why this is the case or how we can change the scientific method. We should only hope that Karl Popper’s methods of revision and refutation will be listened to and that mistakes in science will be pointed out and then corrected.
Fine leaves us with four points that can guide scientists with analyzing neuroscience: (paraphrased)
- (1) do not expect teachers to treat children differently because of neuroscientific findings,
- (2) stop making reverse inferences in relation to sex and gender,
- (3) exercise caution when making psychological distinctions between sexes because of brain differences, and
- (4) don’t fabricate.
These are all tongue-in-cheek remarks, obviously, but they can serve as helpful guidelines for any science conducted.
Before you go…
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I write to keep you thinking and to keep me thankful and reflective. Cheers and until next time,