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The flaws in the science of sex differences

One of our biggest pet peeves is our society’s automatic acceptance — the giddy embrace, even — of the theory that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, with nary a space shuttle between them. We’ve written before on the lazy scientists who are suckers for a sexy headline about the “innate” differences between men and women, while touting the seemingly lone, reasonable voice of neuroscientist Lise Eliot in her book “Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps — and What We Can Do About It.” Fortunately, there are now a few other voices of reason voice that have jumped into the fray as of late: First, Barnard professor Rebecca Jordan-Young in her new book Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences; and then “Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society and Neurosexism Create Difference” by academic psychologist Cordelia Fine. Slate has a great review of “Brain Storm” here, and below is Publisher’s Weekly succinct starred review of it:

Jordan-Young has written a stunning book that demolishes most of the science associated with the dominant paradigm of the development of sex and gender identity, behavior, and orientation. The current paradigm, brain organization theory, proposes: “Because of early exposure to different sex hormones, males and females have different brains”; and these hormones also create “gay” and “straight” brains. Jordan-Young interviewed virtually every major researcher in the field and reviewed hundreds of published scientific papers. Her conclusion: “Brain organization theory is little more than an elaboration of longstanding folk tales about antagonistic male and female essences and how they connect to antagonistic male and female natures.” She explains, in exquisite detail, the flaws in the underlying science, from experimental designs that make no statistical sense to “conceptually sloppy” definitions of male and female sexuality, contradictory results, and the social construction of normality. Her conclusion that the patterns we see are far more complicated than previously believed and due to a wider range of variables will shake up the research community and alter public perception.

And here’s Booklist’s rave about “Delusions of Gender”:

In a methodical and devastatingly effective manner, Fine eviscerates the recent trend in attributing society’s gender-based differences to biology. The sheer girth of her analysis is staggering as she addresses everything from scientific studies going back more than a century to the latest assertions of “Mars and Venus” author John Gray. Fine pivots from studies on gender-based clothing and toys to a discussion of education, and reviews recent Caldecott Award-winning children’s books, noting that one gender is consistently described as “beautiful, frightened, worthy, sweet, weak and scared.” (Guess which one.) Fine also explains how experiments are manipulated to provide desirable results and how results are presented without necessary caveats (such as the fact that men were not part of the study). This is social science at its hard-working best as Fine uses solid references to refute the notion that biology trumps pervasive stereotyping, and offers a sterling rebuttal to agenda research and the lure of pseudo-science.

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