Be skeptical of the neuroscience of gender

Scientists have been making pronouncements about "hardwired" differences between the brains of men and women since 1854, writes Virginia Hughes at Popular Science, and the science those pronouncements are based on is still deeply flawed.

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  1. You expect me to believe that lineages that developed under two very different planetary challenges (frozen desert vs steamy oven) resulted in exact parallel evolution of the neural system? Preposterous!

  2. This topic is a minefield. I advise my undergraduates to avoid it, or at a minimum to keep their mouth shut about what they think.

  3. Oddly, this article debunking alleged defects of news stories about gender differences in the brain repeats one of the major features of such stories -- a complete lack of anything but anecdotal reference to the actual study being discussed.

    In December, a highly publicized study declared that distinctive wiring
    in the brain explains different skill sets in men and women. After
    scanning hundreds of participants’ brains, the researchers reported that
    men have stronger connections within a given hemisphere, whereas women
    have stronger connections between the two.

    Paragraphs like this always remind me of cheap horror films where the protagonist has to consult The Professor at The University. I assume the author is referring to Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brain, but why leave the reader in the dark? This is pretty much how the Daily Mail covered this study, only with the opposite "Mars/Venus" take.

  4. jetfx says:

    My general rule is to remain skeptical of any scientific study or news article about a scientific study which makes claims that reinforce some aspect of inequality present in the status quo. It's almost always the case the news report is a misrepresentation of the study or the study is seriously flawed.

  5. Sure, anyone can observe that there are usual differences between people of different gender as expressed within one culture or another. For instance, men rarely feel the need to wear burkas even in places where women do.

    Trying to determine what significant differences might exist beyond what culture imposes is a much harder question, as you might have learned in subsequent classes.

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