Cordelia Fine and Rebecca Jordan-Young on criticism of gender research, which has been portrayed as dogmatic feminism – thankfully the scientific community has looked beyond the headlines.
A great review in The New York Times on Cordelia Fine’s new book: TESTOSTERONE REX
Myths of Sex, Science, and Society
This is not really News, but we just found out that Judith Conrads from the University in Duisburg-Essen wrote a very interesting conference report on NeuroCultures – NeuroGenderings II 2012 in Vienna.
For german speaking readers: tagungsbericht_neurogenderings_wien
Interesting critique on sex/gender dichotomie structure in hippocampus:
Tan, A., Ma, W., Vira, A., Marwha, D., & Eliot, L. (2016).
The human hippocampus is not sexually-dimorphic: Meta-analysis of structural MRI volumes. NeuroImage, 124, 350-366.
CfP and Invitation
Sorting Brains Out
TASKS, TESTS, and TRIALS in the NEURO- and MIND SCIENCES 1890–2015,
University of Pennsylvania, Sept. 18–19, 2015
Since the late nineteenth century, scientists have devised an ever-increasing number of tasks, tests, and trials to understand the body, the senses, the self, the mind, and the connections between them. Psychologists, physiologists, neuroscientists, and others have made the relation between functions of the brain and individual personalities as well as social behaviors a core aspect of their research. For scientists of the turn of the century as for practitioners today, standardized assessments, physiological experiments, and imaging technologies of many kinds have formed the basis for knowledge claims about minds, brains, and people.How do the ways in which tools of the neurosciences—tasks, tests, and trials—sort people into groups connect to the ways in which they aim to “sort out” psycho-pathologies? How do the technologies and procedures used to explore minds and brains reflect, inform, and break from the societies and cultures in which they are made and used? How does the object of investigation itself change as these techniques change? In other words, when, why, where, and crucially how did brains and minds become neuronal, neurochemical, distributed, dimorphic, average, imageable, computational, enactive, mirroring, plastic, enhanceable, or combinations of these definitions? And, finally, how have the tasks, tests, and trials that make up a large part of knowledge production in the mind sciences led to a doubled view in which the mind/brain is seen as limited, determined, and inaccessible, and at the same time as expansive, malleable, and understandable?
This conference is a forum to compare, contrast, and continue the histories of tasks, tests, and trials in the mind and brain sciences over the past 125 years. We invite participants to think broadly and deeply about the social, philosophical, political, and ethical commitments that have been reflected, reinforced, denounced, or discarded by these fields. We ask participants to look forward and back in time, to explore how contemporary conceptions of mind and brain prolong and elaborate much older ideas, and how the histories of these sciences can help us understand both continuities and ruptures in theories, practices, and values.
The conference will be hosted in Philadelphia on Sept. 18–19, 2015. The afternoon and evening of Friday, Sept. 18, will be devoted to graduate student and early-career postdoctoral presentations. We invite abstracts for papers that respond to and go beyond the questions stated above. Senior faculty will chair these panels, and all who are interested are invited to attend and contribute to a stimulating discussion. Invited senior faculty will present and discuss their current research projects on Saturday, Sept. 19. The list of confirmed speakers includes Dr. Cathy Gere (University of California San Diego), Dr. Katja Guenther (Princeton University), Dr. Nicolas Langlitz (The New School), Dr. Emily Martin (New York University), Dr. Francisco Ortega (Rio de Janeiro State University), Dr. Tobias Rees (McGill University), and Dr. Matthew Wolf-Meyer (University of California Santa Cruz). All Friday presenters and other interested individuals are invited to join the audience and participate in discussion.
SUBMISSION and CONTACT
Graduate students or postdoctoral scholars wishing to participate in the Friday sessions should submit an abstract of no more than 400 words to firstname.lastname@example.org by May 31, 2015. With your abstract submission, please indicate if you need any form of special accommodation. All potential presenters are encouraged to secure funding for travel from their home institutions, but we will do our best to provide informal accommodation for graduate students and early post-doctoral scholars, and we are searching for extra funding to support their travel. Please send any question you may have to email@example.com. This conference is organized by Ekaterina Babintseva, Tabea Cornel, Matthew Hoffarth, and Prashant Kumar, graduate students in the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania, with the supervision of Dr. John Tresch. Generous support is provided by the Center for Neuroscience & Society; the Department of Anthropology; the Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy; the Department of Philosophy; and the Gender and Sexuality Reading Group at the University of Pennsylvania.
If you have any questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Review on Horizon
by Gina Rippon
Perspectives on Horizon – Is your brain male or female?
OK – I know there was a bit with me in it so I might be biased J but I have been given a lot of feedback , some online, some from colleagues, so have drawn on that, as well as personal opinion, for this review.
I had agreed with some trepidation to be involved when I was assured that the format was to present the counter-arguments to the idea that new brain imaging techniques had revealed/confirmed the belief that there is such a thing as a female brain or a male brain. But the pre-programme coverage was disturbingly biased with the Michael Mosely ‘innate/biology is destiny’ camp getting all the coverage. I was concerned that the other side of the argument was not going to get a fair hearing. Where it was mentioned, it was very much couched in “…or it’s learned” terms which missed what, for me (of course), is the key point, that that still means it is a brain issue!! Several neuroscience colleagues said they couldn’t bear to watch it as it looked like it was going to be all about Simon Baron-Cohen and Ruben Gur (so even scientists can be prejudiced!).
Having now seen the programme it was better balanced than it looked like it was going to be. I recently gave a talk about different types of brain imaging studies into sex/gender differences where I divided them into the good the bad and the ugly which proved to be a useful ( if possibly actionable!) way of thinking about such things, so I’ll try it here.
I’m glad the focus on performance differences was on meaningful, measurable tasks such as mental rotation, line orientation and emotion recognition – surprised they didn’t have anything on verbal fluency etc. And REALLY glad they avoided the whole Mars/Venus hokum (although the supposed map reading deficits were aired in the vox pop slots).
The point that we treat people differently according to what sex we think they are was well-made by the ‘cross-gendered’ babies piece and by the ‘my baby boy can hurtle down 1in 10 slopes vs my baby girl will take things more gently ‘ bit of film. The gendered toys footage was obvious and still startling but a bit shallow; why not make the point that presenting construction toys as apparently ‘boys only’ could have some kind of association with the ‘poorer’ female performance on social cognition tasks that they showed elsewhere in the programme?
WHY was there no discussion about what we really mean by differences? There was lots of reference to results showing that ‘on average’ women/men did better than men/women, or “women scored slightly higher than the men – although there were exceptions” or “men significantly outperformed women” (although they were comparing 6 women and 6 men!). And Ruben Gur’s team was allowed to get away with exclaiming over how clear-cut the differences were, when this very claim had been shredded when the paper first came out: (http://figshare.com/articles/Illustrative_effect_sizes_for_sex_differences/866802). If ‘Horizon’ sees itself as a ‘flagship science programme’ then why doesn’t it spend just a little time doing a bit of science education in gift contexts like this? Doesn’t it think the Great British Public could cope with a little session on ‘effect sizes’? (Incidentally, my colleague Cordelia Fine recently drew my attention to a great on-line data visualisation source which REALLY makes the point about how meaningless statistically significant differences can be – http://rpsychologist.com/d3/cohend/ . Shame the Horizon researchers hadn’t come across it!)
Given the effort that had gone into establishing what we mean by gender stereotypes (including the over-lengthy footage of little girls in leotards!), why was there nothing overt about stereotype threat and how it can affect performance and, in fact, brain function? My ‘bit’ did include a reference to “self-fulfilling prophecies” which was all they left in of my rant about stereotype threat, but I think Alice Roberts could have made more of this aspect for her side of the argument. And she missed out the key point of the ‘perspective taking’ study that, in China, where the culture for everyone (male or female) is much more based on taking other people’s point of view, gender differences disappear. But at least it got an airing (and I should say here that the task was devised by my colleague, Klaus Kessler, who appeared in the programme but with the impression given that he was one of research assistants [I wish]!)
The ‘brain plasticity’ story was also underplayed, I think. I would have thought the brains of taxi-drivers or jugglers (or even juggling taxi-drivers) would have been a gift to a programme like this and, actually, a really powerful illustration of the weakness of any ‘biology is destiny’ argument.
The inclusion of a neuroscience study which had been so badly panned when it came out (e.g. http://eldan.co.uk/2013/12/bad-neuroscience-and-gender-reading-this-will-change-your-brain/) seemed really inexcusable for a programme like this. And, having included it, the only reference to the problems was “this study has been heavily criticised” from Alice Roberts. Shame on Horizon!
Not sure where to put the monkey study! Non-science colleagues thought the monkeys were cute but didn’t see what it had to do with human sex differences. And were they young monkeys, monkeys with siblings, monkey who were parents? Who knows – shouldn’t we be told?!
The stuff on pain at the end seemed completely off the point (and would have been better in another programme on sex differences in responses to pharmaceutical products, for example, with the ongoing argument about many animal models of drug-responsivity being based on male-only cohorts).
I have to confess that I stopped watching Horizon programmes a long time ago when they became so absurdly dumbed down and just seemed to be excuses for over-exuberant presenters to blow things up (whether or not an explosion was relevant). As above, I was worried that the end-product threatened to be very one-sided, but both sides did get an airing. It’s a shame that Michael got the cool equipment and the ‘machine-based science’ [although he did get the monkeys] whereas Alice [when on her own] mainly got the schoolchildren and the babies! What kind of unconscious message might we be getting there?!
I guess the proof of the pudding in the eating, so it would be good to know if you think the story was well told, a travesty of inaccuracies and missed opportunities, or somewhere in between!
There was some interesting press coverage:
My surprise at the source of the quite funny but rather fact-free rant as opposed to the source of the rather more fact-informed assessment just reveals my own stereotyped prejudices! See what you think.
“Social Justice and Science” site created and updated regularly by students taking Deboleena Roys graduate seminar classes in feminist science and technology studies.
Deboleena Roy was interviewed by Jerneja Zavec for Radio FRO
“Feministische Mischung.” Interview with Deboleena Roy.
Monday, December 15, 2014
Cordelia Fine, Rebecca Jordan-Young, Anelis Kaiser, Gina Rippon and Daphna Joel published a response to Cahill’s
“Equal ≠ The Same: Sex Differences in the Human Brain” article in Cerebrum which you can find here:
December 11, 2014
A conversation with Cordelia Fine:
November 28, 2014
Victoria Turk writes a review on Fines article His brain, her brain titled
How ‘Neurosexism’ Feeds Stereotypes About Male and Female Brains
November 21, 2014
Cordelia Fine published an article in Neuroscience on His brain, her brain?