Monday, September 25, 2006

Be quiet, Louann Brizendine

Apropos of my last post, I was a little disturbed to read a huge article about this new book The Female Brain in Sunday's WaPo. Like any book of slightly distorted science that plays into popular stereotypes, this one is destined for bestsellerdom, and Brizendine's publisher is clearly trying to get its money's worth; I'd like to shake the hand of her publicist, preferably with a joy buzzer, for landing this ad in article's clothing. (In fairness to the Post, the article's author expresses a fair dollop of skepticism, but the piece also includes some factoids that I recognize as being right off a press release.)

The problem? Well, first, it's probably not all factual. The Boston Globe has started the critique by pointing out that Brizendine got one of her statistics from self-help rather than science, and that probably won't be the last objection. I haven't read the book, but I'm skeptical of anything that makes cut-and-dried claims about neural functioning and architecture. It's more or less inevitable, at this point in our understanding of the brain, that most such claims will turn out to be exaggerated or at least controversial.

But more importantly, this just isn't the time. It doesn't matter how accurate it is to say "male and female brains have fundamental differences at the physical level" -- and of course it is to some degree accurate, though probably not to the degree Brizendine claims. No matter how many minor differences one finds, on average, between male and female brains, it is not going to have nearly the explanatory power of socialization. The inability to deconstruct, the inability to see how "just the way things are" breaks down to just the way things have been, is a fundamental characteristic of the kind of narrow-minded, selfish, blindered individuals we have running the country right now. This is not the time to encourage this particular brand of ignorance with essentializing pop-sci. What you end up with is a bunch of right-wingers who not only can't deconstruct, but now think they have convenient scientific evidence that says they don't need to.

Remember "those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it"? Those who don't know how history contributes to present attitudes and beliefs are doomed to rule from a soundproofed box of essentialism and prejudice, and we shouldn't be giving them excuses to stay there. Cautious data on the relationship between hormones, chromosomes, neurotransmitters, and brain structures? Sure. Excitable pop-sci aiming to crack the bestseller list by playing into prejudice? Not right now, thanks.

6 Comments:

Blogger JordanBaker said...

My favorite thing about such "studies" is their wholesale ellision of gender role differences between cultures. Not only do they naturalize stereotypes, they conveniently naturalize our particular set of stereotypes--we're normal; societies that differ are aberrant.

9/26/2006 7:00 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Yeah, to paraphrase the old saying, it sounds like this is a case of the author relying on the data like a drunk relies on a lamp post, for support rather than illumination.

Accepting uncritically things we'd like to believe (or at least are socialized to expect) is something we can all fall prey to. It would be nice if the power of wishful thinking were more widely recognized, and it would probably be good if people learned to be automatically skeptical of conclusions that seem to reinforce their hopes or preconceptions.

9/26/2006 10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As so often happens in our society, as soon as there's an implication that there may be science behind what makes us human, the proposal is rejected out of hand.

"I haven't read this book" is the finest example of self-confessed adherence to dogma before data. You really should read the work prior to judgement. The Boston Globe article is worthless.

the bunyip

2/20/2007 12:18 PM  
Blogger jess said...

Eh, I haven't read the book, you haven't read the post. I think we're even.

2/20/2007 12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And what "This is not the time to encourage this particular brand of ignorance with essentializing pop-sci. What you end up with is a bunch of right-wingers who not only can't deconstruct, but now think they have convenient scientific evidence that says they don't need to" should have to do with science? This is a political judgement, not scientific, in case you didn't realize.

If you'd want to explain ALL the inaccuracies of the book, one by one, providing the correct scientific references, it would be very better...

10/28/2008 6:32 AM  
Blogger türkiye ve hayata dair herşey said...

thanks admin
information is the most beautiful treasures
seks video

12/17/2009 1:26 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home