Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cordelia Fine at The Cellular Scale

The Cellular Scale reviews Cordelia Fine's Delusions of Gender. This is a book I must read. As the review summarizes it
  • You are bound to find differences when you are looking for them.
  • Differences are more likely to be reported and publicized than similarities
  • There are glaring flaws in many neuroscience studies showing brain differences between men and women
  • Even if all the studies showing brain differences between men and women were taken as true, that still wouldn't mean that the differences are 'hard wired' or 'inherent' or 'because of evolution'
  • Even if all the brain differences are real, and even if they are 'hard wired', that still doesn't mean that women and men actually think differently
For me the key passage was this
Since everyone knows men and women are different re: genitalia, let's test whether they are different in brain or behavior. This may seem totally reasonable, but a counter example is finger-print pattern. People can be grouped by their fingerprint pattern into 'loop-shape' or 'swirl-shape' people. This fingerprint pattern is determined genetically, but since it is not an obvious difference (you probably don't even know which group you belong to), no one has ever tested whether 'loop-shape' people have bigger hippocampi than 'swirl-shape' people.
Again, because "no difference" is not interesting, every study which talks about the observed differences between men and women is shadowed by all the studies which did not find any differences and so were not even published. This is a common issue in Science, but its good to be reminded of it.

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