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Mumei
'Wait and Hope'
(12-06-2013, 12:58 AM)
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So, a few days ago ComputerMKII posted a topic about a recent study which found some structural differences between men's and women's brain. I could have bumped that topic, but I think this article deserves its own topic.

With that:

Skepticism about neuroscience (handily shortened to “neuroskepticism”) is almost as much in fashion now as brain science itself was a few years ago. Perhaps inspired in part by the disgrace of popular neuroscience writer Jonah Lehrer, there’s now a whole cottage industry devoted to critiquing the use of brain scans to explain our lives. And yet there’s one area where we remain highly neuro-credulous: gender.

Witness a recent study that found gender differences in the way brain regions connect with one another, and argued that these differences give men better motor skills and women better “social cognition.” Published in PNAS, the study bore the relatively modest title “Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brain,” but mainstream media headlines made bigger claims: “Different brain wiring in men, women could explain gender differences” (CBS), “Brains of women and men show strong hard-wired differences” (Los Angeles Times), and “The hardwired difference between male and female brains could explain why men are ‘better at map reading’” (the Independent). This is hardly news — media outlets, including Salon, like to choose grabby headlines — but the particular way in which these were grabby is noteworthy. Even if we’re growing skeptical of neuroscience, we as a society seem to love the idea that the difference between the genders is “hard-wired.”

A number of scientists have weighed in to criticize the PNAS study itself. In the Conversation, psychologist Cordelia Fine cites research by the same team that conducted the PNAS study, showing that sex differences in various psychological skills are actually vanishingly small, “so small that if you were to select a boy and girl at random and compare their scores on a task, the ‘right’ sex would be superior less than 53% of the time.” Georgina Rippon, a professor of cognitive imaging, writes that the study authors may have shown structural differences between male and female brains, but they can’t actually prove those differences have any relationship to how people live: “Any relationship with behaviour can only be speculative at this stage.”

And NYU neuroscientist J. Antony Movshon told Salon via email that the PNAS study overstates what we actually know about the human brain, male or female: “the relationship between the pattern of anatomical results and the paper’s claim that ‘… male brains are structured to facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action, whereas female brains are designed to facilitate communication between analytical and intuitive processing modes’ strikes me as fanciful at best, because we actually have no clear idea what connections are involved in connecting ‘perception and coordinated action’ or ‘analytical and intuitive processing modes.’”

There are larger issues at play than a single study, though. Our appetite for the idea of gender “hard-wiring” may be immense (at least judging by headlines), but it’s also likely misguided. In a 2011 paper on the subject, sociomedical scientist Rebecca Jordan-Young and psychologist Raffaella I. Rumiati argue that the idea that prenatal sex hormones forever lock the brain into certain gendered behaviors is specious for several reasons. For one thing, there’s compelling evidence that the kinds of skills that are supposedly etched in the brain from birth are actually quite susceptible to change through simple practice. And perhaps most notably, it’s not possible to determine through brain imaging which brain characteristics are truly innate: “there is no reason to assume that these differences do not arise, at least in part, from gendered patterns of social roles and behaviors — that is, brain differences may result from the very characteristics that are supposedly ‘hard- wired’ into the brain in the first place.”

And the popularity of the hard-wiring idea has pernicious real-world effects. Fine told Salon in an email, “Seeing the differences between the sexes as large, distinctive, and fixed is associated with accentuation of gender differences in both self and others, and greater acceptance of sexism and the status quo.” It’s easy to see this play out in real time, as gender traditionalists crow over each new study like the PNAS one, holding up supposedly scientific evidence that, for instance, women can’t do math. PNAS study author Ragini Verma (who has not yet responded to Salon’s request for comment) helped such traditionalists along a bit by linking her team’s findings to maternal instinct: “Intuition is thinking without thinking. [...] Women tend to be better than men at these kinds of skill which are linked with being good mothers.”

The standard response to any questioning of the hard-wiring paradigm, at least in the kind of cocktail-party setting where a feminist might be engaged in debate about such things (note: I would often prefer to discuss baseball), is some variant on, “So are you saying men and women are exactly the same?”

Rarely is anyone saying that. Rather, what critics of hard-wiring object to is the idea that there are inborn characteristics of the brain that should dictate what men and women do with their lives. Specifically, the argument often runs that since women’s brains are built for nurturing and men’s for analysis, women aren’t fit to be scientists or men to be parents. This in turn leads to the argument that we don’t need social programs to support female scientists or involved dads — or, even more dangerously, that those people who choose to do something their brains are allegedly hard-wired against are deserving of suspicion or discrimination. The problem with the discourse of hard-wiring isn’t so much its descriptive elements (though these can be misguided) but its prescriptive ones. As Jordan-Young and Rumiati write, “Hardwiring is an unethical metaphor because it says ‘what is, must be.’”

There's a bit more at the link, as well as links embedded in the text. The two articles referenced by Cordelia Fine and Georgina Rippon are particularly worth reading since they naturally go into more depth in their criticisms than the excerpts above.
Chainsawkitten
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(12-06-2013, 01:22 AM)
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Originally Posted by Mumei

And NYU neuroscientist J. Antony Movshon told Salon via email that the PNAS study overstates what we actually know about the human brain, male or female: “the relationship between the pattern of anatomical results and the paper’s claim that ‘… male brains are structured to facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action, whereas female brains are designed to facilitate communication between analytical and intuitive processing modes’ strikes me as fanciful at best, because we actually have no clear idea what connections are involved in connecting ‘perception and coordinated action’ or ‘analytical and intuitive processing modes.’”

This always gets me when these kinds of studies are reported on. I don't understand how you could claim the brain scan really means something relevant to our behavior or skills since, to my knowledge, we have a pretty poor understanding of how the brain works and what areas are actually linked to what.

But I tend to chuck it up to my very limited knowledge of neuroscience. Which is why I tend to stay out of the discussion... but that doesn't exactly help me to learn more.

Originally Posted by Mumei

There's a bit more at the link, as well as links embedded in the text. The two articles referenced by Cordelia Fine and Georgina Rippon are particularly worth reading since they naturally go into more depth in their criticisms than the excerpts above.

The links in question: http://sciencegrrl.co.uk/brains-sex/ , http://theconversation.com/new-insig...rosexism-21083
Gotchaye
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(12-06-2013, 01:28 AM)
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In addition to all the brain plasticity stuff and the fact that our brains develop over many, many years such that it's really hard to say if differences in adult brains are due to nature or nurture (to put it simply), even if differences in brain "wiring" end up being innate in whatever sense that's not really sufficient to show that men or women are on average innately better or worse at certain sorts of tasks. Brains could just be wired differently, but in such a way that they end up performing functionally identically (on average) or such that the one with fewer apparent connections or whatever ends up doing a better job. This is especially likely to be the case for complex traits.

If we're hypothesizing that men and women have brains that work differently in important ways, we can't exclude the possibility that they're shaped differently but perform the same functions. Without a reasonably good model of the brain, which we don't have, it's really hard to draw conclusions about functional differences from observed brain differences.
Mumei
'Wait and Hope'
(12-06-2013, 01:46 AM)
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Originally Posted by Gotchaye

In addition to all the brain plasticity stuff and the fact that our brains develop over many, many years such that it's really hard to say if differences in adult brains are due to nature or nurture (to put it simply), even if differences in brain "wiring" end up being innate in whatever sense that's not really sufficient to show that men or women are on average innately better or worse at certain sorts of tasks. Brains could just be wired differently, but in such a way that they end up performing functionally identically (on average) or such that the one with fewer apparent connections or whatever ends up doing a better job. This is especially likely to be the case for complex traits.

If we're hypothesizing that men and women have brains that work differently in important ways, we can't exclude the possibility that they're shaped differently but perform the same functions. Without a reasonably good model of the brain, which we don't have, it's really hard to draw conclusions about functional differences from observed brain differences.

Fine talks about one possibility here:

It reports greater connectivity within the hemispheres in males, but greater connnectivity between the hemispheres in females. These findings, the authors conclude in their scientific paper,

suggest that male brains are structured to facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action, whereas female brains are designed to facilitate communication between analytical and intuitive processing modes.
One important possibility the authors don’t consider is that their results have more to do with brain size than brain sex. Male brains are, on average, larger than females and a large brain is not simply a smaller brain scaled up.

Larger brains create different sorts of engineering problems and so – to minimise energy demands, wiring costs, and communication times – there may physical reasons for different arrangements in differently sized brains. The results may reflect the different wiring solutions of larger versus smaller brains, rather than sex differences per se.

[...]

To give a sense of the huge overlap in behaviour between males and females, of the twenty-six possible comparisons, eleven sex differences were either non-existent, or so small that if you were to select a boy and girl at random and compare their scores on a task, the “right” sex would be superior less than 53% of the time.

Even the much-vaunted female advantage in social cognition, and male advantage in spatial processing, was so modest that a randomly chosen boy would outscore a randomly chosen girl on social cognition – and the girl would outscore the boy on spatial processing – over 40% of the time.

DanteFox
Meticulously designed by GodManPig to be a few sticks short of a teepee.
(12-06-2013, 01:51 AM)
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From my anecdotal experience girls tend to have better handwriting than boys, and much more often than 53% of the time. I genuinely wonder why that is. I too am skeptical of a lot of neuroscientific conclusions regarding attributing behavior to brain states, but I don't discount the idea entirely.
godelsmetric
Banned
(12-06-2013, 01:52 AM)
Thanks for this link. One of the more annoying accusations whenever you disagree with the findings of neuroscientists that gender differences are 'hard-wired' is that you must therefore be 'anti-science'. It's always a refreshing reminder that the science here is very, very far from settled and that the idea of drawing strong conclusions on behaviour based on the evidence of fMRI scans is premature to the point of absurdity.
Zoc
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(12-06-2013, 01:54 AM)
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Originally Posted by Gotchaye

Brains could just be wired differently, but in such a way that they end up performing functionally identically (on average) or such that the one with fewer apparent connections or whatever ends up doing a better job. This is especially likely to be the case for complex traits.

But men and women don't perform functionally identically on most tests of math, spatial reasoning, etc. Traditionalists like to say the reason it is that women are innately inferior and (some) feminists like to say that women have identical brains but have been intimidated and ignored by teachers. What this article is saying is men's and women's brains are, in fact, physically different, but that those physical differences are actually caused by culture, not genetics.
mugwhump
official chef to the
Evil Clown Brigade(tm)
(12-06-2013, 02:04 AM)
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Thanks for this, I've generally been skeptical about this but all those articles were making me unsure what to believe.

Originally Posted by Mumei

So, a few days ago ComputerMKII The two articles referenced by Cordelia Fine and Georgina Rippon are particularly worth reading since they naturally go into more depth in their criticisms than the excerpts above.

Can you summarize

with bolding
DrSlek
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(12-06-2013, 02:15 AM)
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Originally Posted by Zoc

But men and women don't perform functionally identically on most tests of math, spatial reasoning, etc. Traditionalists like to say the reason it is that women are innately inferior and (some) feminists like to say that women have identical brains but have been intimidated and ignored by teachers. What this article is saying is men's and women's brains are, in fact, physically different, but that those physical differences are actually caused by culture, not genetics.

Isn't it possible for culture to affect genetics and therefore brain "wiring"? Is that what you're getting at? Because as I understand it, that's the case.

For instance, the article mentions the idea that men are better at reading maps. I was under the impression of that being because in ancient hunter/gatherer cultures the men were the hunters who had to have a good sense of direction in order to efficiently hunt. Obviously natural selection would have favoured those hunter/gatherer groups with better directional awareness, which possibly translates now into males with better map reading skills.
Snowman Prophet of Doom
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(12-06-2013, 02:20 AM)
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The problem with alot of these kinds of studies is that it is difficult to account for patterning, which tends to be the meat of most people's assumptions re: sex, anyway. While a given girl may fall into the 40% that perform better than a randomly-selected boy on one task or variable, she may fall within her gender norms elsewhere, such that the lone aberration may not be not be truly notable, overall. This is something difficult or impossible to calibrate, but as our brains are pattern recognition devices, not statistical number-crunchers, it is an essential piece to understanding such things that is - perhaps unfortunately - beyond science, at the present moment.
ClassyPenguin
Banned
(12-06-2013, 02:29 AM)
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Originally Posted by Georgina Rippon

The authors point out that the observed differences depend on age – that is, they are not really evident until after age 13. However, I’m not sure they controlled well enough for developmental stage – they say their groups “correspond roughly to the developmental stages of childhood, adolescence and young adulthood….” This does not smack of rigorous scientific methodology to me! If these points were properly controlled for, they were not properly reported in the paper.

Which brings us to another stumbling block when it comes to controls: we don’t know much about the subjects. We know there are 949 of them, their age (8-22 years), their sex and (in the words of the authors) their ‘race’. Do we know anything about the life experiences of the people they measured? Have they been brought up in an all-male family? An all-female family? Mixed? What is their level of education and socioeconomic status?

Welp.

The major account of sexual differentiation of the brain, brain organization theory, still posits that prenatal hormones give rise to (or ‘hardwire’) permanent structural and functional sex differences, despite considerable and long-standing evidence that early hormonal effects are not permanent (see [10]). In functional neuroimaging, investigation of experience-dependent plasticity has only rarely been applied to the emergence, maintenance, and plasticity of gendered behavior (e.g., [11]). Instead, studies tend simply to compare the biological sexes, as though the implicit aim were to identify fixed, universal female versus male signatures [12]. Similarly, investigations of female/male differences in ‘sex hormones’ and social behavior are often correlational, with analyses implying that hormonal level is a ‘pure’ biological and causally primary variable, rather than taking into account the fact that biological factors are ‘entangled’ with the individual's social history and current social context (see [13]). In addition, in evolutionary psychology investigations of female–male differences, it tends to be left to researchers outside the field to identify the environmental and cultural factors that are important in moderating supposedly ‘universal’ sex-related preferences (see [9,14]).

Plasticity, plasticity, plasticity…and the rigid problem of sex
I must say, it's quite a good read.
Last edited by ClassyPenguin; 12-06-2013 at 02:39 AM.
Gotchaye
this space intentionally left blank
(12-06-2013, 02:31 AM)
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Originally Posted by Zoc

But men and women don't perform functionally identically on most tests of math, spatial reasoning, etc. Traditionalists like to say the reason it is that women are innately inferior and (some) feminists like to say that women have identical brains but have been intimidated and ignored by teachers. What this article is saying is men's and women's brains are, in fact, physically different, but that those physical differences are actually caused by culture, not genetics.

Sure. I'm just saying that looking at brains doesn't tell you anything about this, really, given the state of neuroscience. We can't look at brains and figure out who's better at math with any accuracy; there's very little information value in an individual's brain scan. The best we can do is sort people into good-at-math and bad-at-math groups and then look and see how their brains are different, but we really have no idea how the brain differences we see are influencing math skills, and we don't even know if the differences we see are influencing math skills - maybe it's something else that we're not seeing.

This gets even clumsier if we're not sorting people into groups based on ability but are just looking at two predefined groups which differ very slightly in certain measures of certain abilities. At best we're locating on-average differences in brains that correlate with on-average differences in ability, at least across the two groups. But remember that we've hypothesized that male and female brains develop differently, on average. So to make this interesting to anyone other than people doing basic research, we've got to establish that the correlation holds up within both groups and that the sorts of differences in brain activity we see across sexes are similarly important within them, while controlling for everything else we can think of. Then maybe you can make a case that the on-average* brain differences we're seeing are important for explaining the on-average ability differences. Even so, I think this ends up being mostly uninteresting until we get to the point where we can look at an individual's brain and get a reasonably accurate measure of ability at various tasks.

*It's a little hard to define what's meant by "on-average brain differences", given how interconnected and complex the brain is. Suppose there are two easily measurable quantities, X and Y, which vary across individuals. On average, members of groups A and B have the same amounts of X and Y. But in members of group A, X and Y are correlated more strongly than they are in members of group B. So even the sum of X and Y is on-average the same across the groups. But there's still a difference there, on average - the distribution of the sum of X and Y will be different between the groups. And maybe this sum, rather than their individual values, matters for some other thing we care about. This is all fiendishly complicated to untangle. Plus there's a whole lot of noise in brain scans, so there's error in the measurements. We need a model of the brain.
Zoc
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(12-06-2013, 03:15 AM)
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Originally Posted by DrSlek

Isn't it possible for culture to affect genetics and therefore brain "wiring"? Is that what you're getting at? Because as I understand it, that's the case.

For instance, the article mentions the idea that men are better at reading maps. I was under the impression of that being because in ancient hunter/gatherer cultures the men were the hunters who had to have a good sense of direction in order to efficiently hunt. Obviously natural selection would have favoured those hunter/gatherer groups with better directional awareness, which possibly translates now into males with better map reading skills.

That's possible, but that's not what I was getting at, and wasn't the topic of the article. What are you describing is called evolutionary neuroscience, and it is even more controversial (and shaky) than conventional neuroscience.

The scenario you describe about map-reading could perfectly well be true, but we have no way of testing it, and so it remains mere speculation. Lots of scientists, however, have been trying to establish that brain scans as a valid means of testing hypotheses like that, taking them beyond speculation into accepted knowledge. What this article is doing is tearing down all those efforts and saying that brain scans are, in fact, useless after all in these kinds of discussion.
jay
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(12-06-2013, 03:31 AM)
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I noticed this thread is less popular than the other thread.
Feep
Second-hand Citizen
(12-06-2013, 03:32 AM)
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Evolutionary neuroscience is something that I should find very interesting, but instead, I don't want to touch it with a ten foot pole because its findings may cause people to explode. Telling men or women that the other gender might be naturally more effective in a certain area leads to riots.
ClassyPenguin
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(12-06-2013, 03:33 AM)
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Originally Posted by jay

I noticed this thread is less popular than the other thread.

Less "science journalism" more science.

Same thing happened when that anti-gmo paper got retracted. No one really gives a shit about facts, everyone cares about voicing their opinions.
Same issue at hand whith that 400,000 year old DNA thread. I was hoping to get some discussion about homonid migration and it got lost to a religious vs science shit thread.
Last edited by ClassyPenguin; 12-06-2013 at 03:38 AM.
OddMorsel
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(12-06-2013, 03:42 AM)
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I would just assume people are more likely to believe that "hard-wiring" exists from confirmation bias due to long-held beliefs about the difference between men and women.

If there was a report that said, say "brain scans reveal Asians are better at mathematics" people would believe it wholesale because it aligns well with pre-conceived stereotypes.

I also think that people are more likely to believe that there's hard-wiring because they want to feel comfortable with their own limitations and dissatisfactions. Similarly, someone could gain new confidence through believing that they are naturally "hard-wired" to be good at something that they are already good at. It's like biological encouragement.
ClassyPenguin
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(12-06-2013, 03:43 AM)
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Head Motion. A perennial Neuroskeptic favorite, this one. A paper just last week showed convincingly that even modest amounts of head movement during the MRI scan causes changes in DTI.

Various commentators on Twitter and elsewhere swiftly pointed out that it’s not implausible that men and women might move different amounts on average, so that might account for at least some of these results.

I doubt there’s a big difference in motion, but in a sample this large, even a tiny sex bias in average fidgetiness would be detected and come out as statistically significant.

Brain Size. Men have bigger brains than women on average. How this would affect DTI estimates of connectivity, I’m not sure. But it might well do. Here’s a paper reporting that “connection length was negatively correlated with degree of connectivity”. Longer connections – as seen in bigger brains – are weaker (or at any rate, appear weaker on DTI).

I recently blogged about the fact that, relative to overall brain size, the corpus callosum, the major connection in the whole brain, is smaller in larger brains. This is an effect of brain size, not of sex, but it was misidentified as a sex issue for a long time… a cautionary tale?

Men, Women, and Big PNAS Papers

Funny how expert reactions to the paper differ from what was reported by media.

Prof Dorothy Bishop, Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology, University of Oxford, said:

“I think this study is potentially interesting but the suggested implications are in my opinion overhyped. For example, the description of effects as ‘hardwired’ is very misleading; brain connectivity can change with training and this is currently an active area of research, e.g. studies on brain plasticity.

“A previous large study examining similar things with 400 people did not find the same results as this study, which suggests that the current sample is either unusual, or that effects are very small at the individual level. The way the results are shown graphically makes them look dramatic, but the effects are likely to be very small – I suspect differences within each gender are considerably larger than differences between genders. In addition, we know very little about who the people were in the study. All we’re told is what race they were, and this was significantly different for the males and females, so it’s possible this also had an effect. I also think that it is going well beyond the data to draw conclusions about the functional significance of these effects when the authors don’t report any data on behaviour in this sample.

Last edited by ClassyPenguin; 12-06-2013 at 03:48 AM.
kirblar
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(12-06-2013, 03:50 AM)
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Originally Posted by OddMorsel

I would just assume people are more likely to believe that "hard-wiring" exists from confirmation bias due to long-held beliefs about the difference between men and women.

If there was a report that said, say "brain scans reveal Asians are better at mathematics" people would believe it wholesale because it aligns well with pre-conceived stereotypes.

I also think that people are more likely to believe that there's hard-wiring because they want to feel comfortable with their own limitations and dissatisfactions. Similarly, someone could gain new confidence through believing that they are naturally "hard-wired" to be good at something that they are already good at. It's like biological encouragement.

Many also have biases toward "cultural/social." It gets incredibly frustrating to deal with both sides because they look for confirmation rather than for "truth" and actively shoot down things that don't fit their worldview.
Zaptruder
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(12-06-2013, 03:50 AM)
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Wait? Why's Jonah Lehrer disgraced? D:
ClassyPenguin
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(12-06-2013, 03:53 AM)
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Originally Posted by Zaptruder

Wait? Why's Jonah Lehrer disgraced? D:

He's a plagiarist.
cyclonekruse
Member
(12-06-2013, 03:58 AM)
My two cents is that the trouble here is less with the "hard-wiring" and more with a misunderstanding of what exactly that means. What it means (to me, at least) is that the trait/behavior has a biological component to it. That's really it. It suggests that we're genetically predisposed to a characteristic in question. But a major issue arises when people take a predisposition to mean destiny. That's just not true. It is certainly possible to break from your "wiring." As an analog, alcoholism seems to have a genetic component. We might not understand exactly what that component is, but it seems to run in families (even if the child is raised apart from the parents, if I'm not mistaken) and so we begin to suspect heredity. But being predisposed to alcoholism doesn't condemn one to becoming an alcoholic. Likewise, being predisposed toward spatial thinking wouldn't necessitate being good at spatial thinking. Events may have conspired such that you never experienced the stimuli necessary to turn that disposition into an actuality. For instance, if you contracted some disease at a young age which resulted in blindness, your spatial abilities are likely going to suffer a blow regardless of how well your brain is wired for it or how great your potential capacity for it was.

Another misunderstanding that I see a lot is people thinking statements are categorical when they're intended to be general. It's not as controversial to say that men are taller than women. People seem to understand that such a statement only holds true on average and that there are a plethora of counterexamples to the rule. I therefore find it odd that they don't understand that many statements about gender differences in the brain are likewise riddled with exceptions and are only meant as generalities. So using such findings to promote gender stereotypes misses the mark. A measurable difference on some trait or another might well exist between the sexes. But that's only in aggregate. Any individual you run across will have a very good chance of defying the general rule. Statistics 101. Unfortunately not a required class for many majors.
Zaptruder
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(12-06-2013, 04:16 AM)
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Originally Posted by ClassyPenguin

He's a plagiarist.

Dayum. Oh Jonah... Jonah Jonah Jonah....

Why are the best story tellers also so crooked?

Freakonomics dudes, Malcolm Gladwell now Jonah Lehrer...
mujun
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(12-06-2013, 04:23 AM)
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In layperson's terms...?

Size of brain might be the reason for one gender being better with parenting or map reading.

Differences are not genetically tied to either gender.

Bringing up a child according to gender stereotypes causes them to take on the role they are believed to belong to.

Is this correct?
leroidys
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(12-06-2013, 04:29 AM)
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Doesn't everyone just always lie when they answer these PNAS studies anyway?
Gotchaye
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(12-06-2013, 04:35 AM)
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Originally Posted by cyclonekruse

My two cents is that the trouble here is less with the "hard-wiring" and more with a misunderstanding of what exactly that means. What it means (to me, at least) is that the trait/behavior has a biological component to it. That's really it. It suggests that we're genetically predisposed to a characteristic in question. But a major issue arises when people take a predisposition to mean destiny. That's just not true. It is certainly possible to break from your "wiring." As an analog, alcoholism seems to have a genetic component. We might not understand exactly what that component is, but it seems to run in families (even if the child is raised apart from the parents, if I'm not mistaken) and so we begin to suspect heredity. But being predisposed to alcoholism doesn't condemn one to becoming an alcoholic. Likewise, being predisposed toward spatial thinking wouldn't necessitate being good at spatial thinking. Events may have conspired such that you never experienced the stimuli necessary to turn that disposition into an actuality. For instance, if you contracted some disease at a young age which resulted in blindness, your spatial abilities are likely going to suffer a blow regardless of how well your brain is wired for it or how great your potential capacity for it was.

Another misunderstanding that I see a lot is people thinking statements are categorical when they're intended to be general. It's not as controversial to say that men are taller than women. People seem to understand that such a statement only holds true on average and that there are a plethora of counterexamples to the rule. I therefore find it odd that they don't understand that many statements about gender differences in the brain are likewise riddled with exceptions and are only meant as generalities. So using such findings to promote gender stereotypes misses the mark. A measurable difference on some trait or another might well exist between the sexes. But that's only in aggregate. Any individual you run across will have a very good chance of defying the general rule. Statistics 101. Unfortunately not a required class for many majors.

I think this is more controversial than height for a few reasons.

First, it's not actually clear to what extent "genetic predispositions" influence various cognitive abilities. I think a lot of people who don't like talking about intelligence or similar as "hard-wired" are understanding the term in basically the way you do, and just think that it's not that the case that "nature" explains these differences between men and women. The evidence here isn't anywhere near as compelling as the evidence that height has a lot to do with your genes.

Second, people might think the differences are overstated or maybe even nonexistent. No one denies that there are on-average height differences between men and women. This isn't plausibly measurement error - only about 3% of women are taller than the average man, measurements of the two differ on average by something like 8%, and measurement error is damn near zero. There's much more within-group variation relative to between-group variation when it comes to cognitive abilities, the across-group variation is small, and our tests are much less clearly reliable. Maybe when women do slightly worse than men at a spatial reasoning test it's because they're worse at spatial reasoning, but maybe it's because of things like stereotype threat, or maybe there is some underlying difference but the difference has to do with taking certain kinds of controlled tests rather than with exercising the ability in the real world.

Third, these ideas are commonly used to defend the status quo in the face of feminist challenges. I think we've all heard it suggested that there are relatively few women in math and in the hard sciences because of these sorts of differences. This is taken to be a reason not to try to reform the system. Now, I agree that the reality of small differences wouldn't actually matter, logically, but probably we should be very careful about endorsing the reality of small differences until we really do have good evidence that they're there. That small differences exist and are hard-wired is taken to be an even stronger reason for inaction, since there's presumptively nothing to be done, so we should also be careful about endorsing hard-wiredness.
Last edited by Gotchaye; 12-06-2013 at 04:38 AM.
Mumei
'Wait and Hope'
(12-06-2013, 04:37 AM)
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Originally Posted by Zoc

But men and women don't perform functionally identically on most tests of math, spatial reasoning, etc. Traditionalists like to say the reason it is that women are innately inferior and (some) feminists like to say that women have identical brains but have been intimidated and ignored by teachers. What this article is saying is men's and women's brains are, in fact, physically different, but that those physical differences are actually caused by culture, not genetics.

It's a bit more complicated than that. For instance, Fine has argued that the differences we see between men and women in things such as tests of math and spatial reasoning are often due to the power of priming. When participants on a test of mental rotation are told that it is linked to stereotypically masculine interests such as nuclear propulsion engineering or carrier-based aviation engineering, the men do much better. When participants on an identical test are told that it predicts facility with stereotypically feminine tasks such as clothing and dress design, interior decoration, or flower arranging, this suppresses male performance on the test. Or in another test, priming women to think of themselves as women versus priming them to think of themselves as college students caused the latter group to perform significantly better on the task. And in one other test, three groups were told that men were better, that women were better, and a third group given no information about gender differences with mental rotation. Men did better in the third and first groups - but women performed slightly better than men on the second.

This is also true for tests of mathematical abilities. In one study, participants were students who were taking a difficult calculus class designed as a pipeline to the hard sciences; they were given a calculus test made up of questions from the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) math test. Students were given test information with their test, but the information differed for some students. Some students read that the test was designed to measure math ability, to try to understand what makes some people better at math than others. Other students read that despite testing on thousands of students, no gender difference had been found. In the stereotype threat condition, men and women both scored 19 percent on the test. In the non-threat condition, men also scored 19 percent - but women averaged 30 percent in the nonthreat group.

So, it's not just that they are arguing that it is culture that causes physical differences in the brain and these then cause differences in abilities; they would probably argue that even many apparent differences in ability are fairly shallow and easily manipulated by simply changing the description of a test or even telling participants a white lie.


Originally Posted by ClassyPenguin

Funny how expert reactions to the paper differ from what was reported by media.

Prof Dorothy Bishop, Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology, University of Oxford, said:

“I think this study is potentially interesting but the suggested implications are in my opinion overhyped. For example, the description of effects as ‘hardwired’ is very misleading; brain connectivity can change with training and this is currently an active area of research, e.g. studies on brain plasticity.

“A previous large study examining similar things with 400 people did not find the same results as this study, which suggests that the current sample is either unusual, or that effects are very small at the individual level. The way the results are shown graphically makes them look dramatic, but the effects are likely to be very small – I suspect differences within each gender are considerably larger than differences between genders. In addition, we know very little about who the people were in the study. All we’re told is what race they were, and this was significantly different for the males and females, so it’s possible this also had an effect. I also think that it is going well beyond the data to draw conclusions about the functional significance of these effects when the authors don’t report any data on behaviour in this sample.

The underlined comment reminds me of research done by Janet Hyde, including a meta-analysis of one hundred studies of mathematical ability and another meta-analysis of one hundred sixty five studies of differences in verbal ability, both of which found slight to nonexistent gender differences in tests of nearly four million and 1.4 million participants. Even more recent studies emphasize the same findings. As she argues, "The important point is that within-gender differences are enormous compared to between-gender differences."

And all of this is not to say that there are definitely no gendered differences; it is simply to say that those differences are highly contingent and that we should be cautious about saying categorically that men or women are better at certain tasks or abilities in the first place, and cautious about attributing the differences we do observe to biological imperatives. I think this caution is due because, as Fine said in the OP, the very belief that these differences are hard-wired can actually create (or exacerbate) those differences.
Last edited by Mumei; 12-06-2013 at 04:39 AM.
mantidor
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(12-06-2013, 04:49 AM)
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I was reading something about it on Wired while on commute, it is, I think, I little less verbose so it's more accessible :P.

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/20...-brain-wiring/

There's a lot to read though, that's for sure, sadly most people don't go past the headlines, and newspapers are all about simple headlines that get clicks these days unfortunately. When that original study appeared it was picked by every major, mainstream news source I read. Follow ups? not so much.
cyclonekruse
Member
(12-06-2013, 05:47 AM)

Originally Posted by Gotchaye

I think this is more controversial than height for a few reasons.

First, it's not actually clear to what extent "genetic predispositions" influence various cognitive abilities. I think a lot of people who don't like talking about intelligence or similar as "hard-wired" are understanding the term in basically the way you do, and just think that it's not that the case that "nature" explains these differences between men and women. The evidence here isn't anywhere near as compelling as the evidence that height has a lot to do with your genes.

Second, people might think the differences are overstated or maybe even nonexistent. No one denies that there are on-average height differences between men and women. This isn't plausibly measurement error - only about 3% of women are taller than the average man, measurements of the two differ on average by something like 8%, and measurement error is damn near zero. There's much more within-group variation relative to between-group variation when it comes to cognitive abilities, the across-group variation is small, and our tests are much less clearly reliable. Maybe when women do slightly worse than men at a spatial reasoning test it's because they're worse at spatial reasoning, but maybe it's because of things like stereotype threat, or maybe there is some underlying difference but the difference has to do with taking certain kinds of controlled tests rather than with exercising the ability in the real world.

Third, these ideas are commonly used to defend the status quo in the face of feminist challenges. I think we've all heard it suggested that there are relatively few women in math and in the hard sciences because of these sorts of differences. This is taken to be a reason not to try to reform the system. Now, I agree that the reality of small differences wouldn't actually matter, logically, but probably we should be very careful about endorsing the reality of small differences until we really do have good evidence that they're there. That small differences exist and are hard-wired is taken to be an even stronger reason for inaction, since there's presumptively nothing to be done, so we should also be careful about endorsing hard-wiredness.

To an extent you're falling in with what I said. A biological/genetic predisposition simply means there's a biological component involved with the trait. It doesn't mean that "nature" explains the differences that we observe. At most it means that "nature" is part of the explanation for the differences. Even with height where the evidence is clear that genetics plays a role, there are several environmental factors that have a part as well such as nutrition and disease. So proposing a predisposition doesn't necessarily imply that nature's contributions to the behavior are large. Just that a contribution does seem to come from the genetics/hormonal side of things.

Your second point has more teeth to me. Healthy skepticism towards research such as this is encouraged in science. Other explanations might be out there. That's certainly true. But that's true of pretty much any finding. Especially when it comes to complicated systems like human psychology. So merely pointing out that an alternative explanation exists isn't very remarkable to me. Providing evidence for that alternative explanation is much more illuminating, like Mumei's summary of the stereotype threat study. Interestingly, that study possibly points to another gender difference even though it's trying to argue against the notion of meaningful gender differences. To wit, boys were apparently less susceptible to suggestion (in this case, at least). What they were told about the test didn't affect their performance.

Your third point rings hollow. That people would misunderstand or misuse these findings to enforce preexisting gender paradigms is irrelevant to whether or not the findings are true. You're basically advocating censuring of research for political reasons. Truth doesn't care about politics (and, too often, politics doesn't concern itself with truth). What I think you should be more concerned with is the Is-Ought Fallacy that people commit when they leap from the observation that, say, women don't perform as well in math to "Then that's the way it ought to be." Of course, that's simply not true. Even if women are predisposed against math, that doesn't mean we throw our hands in the air and discourage female mathematicians. On the contrary, if we decide that we want more gender parity in the field, knowing one of the contributing factors helps us meet that goal. We just need to collectively reject the notion of genetic determinism. Sure, I might have genetics that put me at higher risk for cancer. That doesn't mean I'm guaranteed to get cancer. But it does mean I should be more vigilant. Similarly, I might be genetically disposed toward obesity or aggression. That doesn't mean I'm doomed to being an alpha male who weighs a quarter-ton. It just means I need to watch my diet more closely than the average person and learn to channel my anger to more positive outlets.
Slavik81
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(12-06-2013, 06:03 AM)
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Originally Posted by Mumei

So, a few days ago ComputerMKII posted a topic about a recent study which found some structural differences between men's and women's brain. I could have bumped that topic, but I think this article deserves its own topic.

With that:

Skepticism about neuroscience (handily shortened to “neuroskepticism”) is almost as much in fashion now as brain science itself was a few years ago. Perhaps inspired in part by the disgrace of popular neuroscience writer Jonah Lehrer, there’s now a whole cottage industry devoted to critiquing the use of brain scans to explain our lives. And yet there’s one area where we remain highly neuro-credulous: gender.

I'm not sure I believe that. This problem seems tremendously common across many areas of popular science. Biology in general is pretty bad for it. The media making sweeping conclusions from limited studies is par for the course, I'm afraid.
Gotchaye
this space intentionally left blank
(12-06-2013, 06:28 AM)
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Originally Posted by cyclonekruse

To an extent you're falling in with what I said. A biological/genetic predisposition simply means there's a biological component involved with the trait. It doesn't mean that "nature" explains the differences that we observe. At most it means that "nature" is part of the explanation for the differences. Even with height where the evidence is clear that genetics plays a role, there are several environmental factors that have a part as well such as nutrition and disease. So proposing a predisposition doesn't necessarily imply that nature's contributions to the behavior are large. Just that a contribution does seem to come from the genetics/hormonal side of things.

I'm not really sure what you're saying here. I mean, on the one hand it's trivially true that there's a genetic component to basically every trait humans have - genes are an important part of the explanation for the differences between humans and other organisms. But here I think we're talking more about whether and how they're an important part of the explanation for differences between two groups of humans - men and women. On-average height differences between men and women are basically due to biology, as far as I know. Yeah, nutrition matters for determining an individual's height, but it's probably not an important part of explaining the difference between male and female average heights. I was saying that, for all we know, biology accounts for spatial reasoning differences between men and women to about the same extent that nutrition accounts for height differences between men and women. Or maybe women have a biological advantage, even. It's really hard to say, and you're going to get pushback when you assert that a contribution "seems to come from the genetics/hormonal side of things", at least when you seem to be talking about a contribution to an on-average difference in favor of men. Because the evidence really isn't very clear; it's certainly much less clear than the evidence for height.


Your third point rings hollow. That people would misunderstand or misuse these findings to enforce preexisting gender paradigms is irrelevant to whether or not the findings are true. You're basically advocating censuring of research for political reasons. Truth doesn't care about politics (and, too often, politics doesn't concern itself with truth). What I think you should be more concerned with is the Is-Ought Fallacy that people commit when they leap from the observation that, say, women don't perform as well in math to "Then that's the way it ought to be." Of course, that's simply not true. Even if women are predisposed against math, that doesn't mean we throw our hands in the air and discourage female mathematicians. On the contrary, if we decide that we want more gender parity in the field, knowing one of the contributing factors helps us meet that goal. We just need to collectively reject the notion of genetic determinism. Sure, I might have genetics that put me at higher risk for cancer. That doesn't mean I'm guaranteed to get cancer. But it does mean I should be more vigilant. Similarly, I might be genetically disposed toward obesity or aggression. That doesn't mean I'm doomed to being an alpha male who weighs a quarter-ton. It just means I need to watch my diet more closely than the average person and learn to channel my anger to more positive outlets.

Sure, we shouldn't censor the truth or hinder legitimate research, but I don't think I'm advocating that. What I said was that we ought to be very careful about talking as if evidence is stronger than it really is. In some fields this isn't a big deal - it's not really a problem if astronomers are insufficiently careful and present a weak consensus position as a hard fact. If a rogue astronomer talks up his pet theory on Science Friday and gives the impression that it's much better-supported than it really is, that's annoying at worst. News organizations are bad at reporting science and give people the impression that invisibility cloaks and cancer cures are just five years off, and while they should stop this it's not doing that much harm.

The goal of science communication is to give people a more accurate understanding of the science, especially to the extent that it helps them make better decisions. Because of the potential relevance of sex differences to people's other beliefs and actions, and because some people are likely to jump on any tidbit that sounds like it supports their preconceptions, it is very important to speak carefully about sex differences so as to avoid people taking away from the conversation that sex differences (in the sorts of areas we're talking about) are significant, or that we have much reason to think that innate differences - which might barely even be present! - go in particular directions for particular traits.
Last edited by Gotchaye; 12-06-2013 at 06:30 AM.
Samarecarm
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(12-06-2013, 06:33 AM)
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And yet there’s one area where we remain highly neuro-credulous: gender.

We are?

Well, I'm sure some people are. But there are also many corners in which it's assumed by default that there are no biological differences between men and women; in fact, it's taken as an assumed truth (when I don't think it's proven by any means).

Of course, there are many ways in which men and women are alike, but I find the claim that there are no innate differences odd: Wouldn't that make human beings wildly different from the rest of the animal world?

I mean, I think everyone would agree that there are genuine hard-wired differences between male bees (drones) and female bees (queens/workers) that aren't just because of how the bees were raised. You'd probably have to say the same thing about male lions and female lions, too. So why do we assume human beings are so different?

I suppose if one is an intelligent design advocate, it's easy to say that gender is human beings is totally different from the rest of the animal kingdom, but otherwise it implies an odd sort of anthropocentricity...
cyclonekruse
Member
(12-06-2013, 07:49 AM)

Originally Posted by Gotchaye

I'm not really sure what you're saying here. I mean, on the one hand it's trivially true that there's a genetic component to basically every trait humans have - genes are an important part of the explanation for the differences between humans and other organisms. But here I think we're talking more about whether and how they're an important part of the explanation for differences between two groups of humans - men and women. On-average height differences between men and women are basically due to biology, as far as I know. Yeah, nutrition matters for determining an individual's height, but it's probably not an important part of explaining the difference between male and female average heights. I was saying that, for all we know, biology accounts for spatial reasoning differences between men and women to about the same extent that nutrition accounts for height differences between men and women. Or maybe women have a biological advantage, even. It's really hard to say, and you're going to get pushback when you assert that a contribution "seems to come from the genetics/hormonal side of things", at least when you seem to be talking about a contribution to an on-average difference in favor of men. Because the evidence really isn't very clear; it's certainly much less clear than the evidence for height.

I look at it differently, I guess. If we find a biologically-linked sex difference, I think that's significant even if it's a small difference. If only 5% of the difference that we observe is due to genetics that still makes it true that, on average, one sex is more "hard-wired" than the other toward some behavior. It's about like how I view a lot of medical research. It could be the case that ingesting a lot of salt has repercussions for my heart health. Even if there's only a 1% increase in deaths for those with high salt intake, that's useful information to me.

Sure, we shouldn't censor the truth or hinder legitimate research, but I don't think I'm advocating that. What I said was that we ought to be very careful about talking as if evidence is stronger than it really is.

I agree that we should exercise caution in talking about the strength of evidence. And part of that, I think, is educating people to realize that sensationalist statements, while often technically true, are misleading. Teaching people about science and getting them to understand what's actually being put forth by the researchers would help. As would having journalists be less sensationalistic.

Where I disagree is with your suggestion that research needs to be toned down so as not to increase challenges on feminist goals. Also the suggestion that a predisposition that favors men is somehow less acceptable. That's letting politics slip into science, which I don't care for.

it is very important to speak carefully about sex differences so as to avoid people taking away from the conversation that sex differences (in the sorts of areas we're talking about) are significant, or that we have much reason to think that innate differences - which might barely even be present! - go in particular directions for particular traits.

Or we can teach people that innate differences aren't absolutely determined. Maybe the odds ARE somewhat stacked against you genetically. So what? It doesn't destine you to anything. The brain is an amazing enough organ to work around any predispositions that do exist. With proper training, of course.

I guess my position is that I think we should find whatever genetic/hormonal sex differences there are without prejudice. But what we find is more or less irrelevant to how we want to be as a society. We're smart enough to overcome our biology.
jimi_dini
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(12-06-2013, 08:12 AM)
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Originally Posted by Gotchaye

In addition to all the brain plasticity stuff and the fact that our brains develop over many, many years such that it's really hard to say if differences in adult brains are due to nature or nurture (to put it simply)

But why were those brain differences only detectable from age 13 on?
So every child/teenager was nurtured the exact same way to cause those physical differences almost exactly at the same time?

It rather looks like hormone-related.

Sure, you may say that those differences are still nurture related. I say: nurture over millions of years. Maybe that made us that way. It definitely would make sense. Male+Females are supposed to work together. Raise a child for example. For plenty of years. What's better at that job? 2 totally average humans? Or 2 specialized humans?

What people seem to overlook - those differences don't mean that behaviour is hardwired/fixed. But it could explain the gender equality paradox. It could explain for example why most females just prefer to be in social jobs, when they have the "free will" to choose whatever job they like.

Some people say that MINT males are misogynistic (or something like that) and that females are not accepted in that place (which I don't agree on at all) and that's why only around 10% or so choose such jobs. Please explain to me, why there are so many more females in PR/marketing jobs. I would say that plenty of PR/marketing is sexist. Still lots of females choose to do those jobs. My personal opinion on that is: PR/marketing is social. And that's why lots of women choose those jobs.
Last edited by jimi_dini; 12-06-2013 at 08:26 AM.
Cyan
Purple Drazi
(12-06-2013, 08:21 AM)
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Originally Posted by cyclonekruse

Where I disagree is with your suggestion that research needs to be toned down so as not to increase challenges on feminist goals.

I found this statement so utterly out of keeping with what I'd expect from Gotchaye that I had to go back and reread all of his posts in this thread.

I collect you're referring to this:

Originally Posted by Gotchaye

Third, these ideas are commonly used to defend the status quo in the face of feminist challenges. I think we've all heard it suggested that there are relatively few women in math and in the hard sciences because of these sorts of differences. This is taken to be a reason not to try to reform the system. Now, I agree that the reality of small differences wouldn't actually matter, logically, but probably we should be very careful about endorsing the reality of small differences until we really do have good evidence that they're there. That small differences exist and are hard-wired is taken to be an even stronger reason for inaction, since there's presumptively nothing to be done, so we should also be careful about endorsing hard-wiredness.

In which case I would strongly recommend that you reread the bolded and consider whether you might have misunderstood it.

Or, to put it more bluntly: you're either misreading Gotchaye or misrepresenting him. It seems clear to me that he's not saying research should be toned down, but rather that we should look for strong evidence, i.e. do more research. The exact opposite of what you're suggesting.
Guerilla
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(12-06-2013, 08:40 AM)
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Neuroskepticism is not "in fashion now", it's in fashion amongst feminists because they refuse to acknowledge scientific evidence. While I agree with parts of the article that suggest that the press as per usual is reporting with a touch of their own hyperbole the problem again is feminist experts adjusting scientific evidence to their own worldview instead of adjusting their worldview.

This is the kind of reactionary behaviour that will leave feminism behind, it kind of reminds me religion's insistence on doing the same. I don't understand how a movement that claims to be progressive can be at war with two sciences, evolutionary biology and neuroscience.
Dash_
Junior Member
(12-06-2013, 08:45 AM)
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Cordelia Fine's book Delusions of Gender is a good book to read about debunking the sexist biases pervading research and reporting on brain function and connectivity. And if we're throwing around studies, I found this recently interesting:

http://www.livescience.com/39373-lef...rain-myth.html
Dead Man
I got d 2 tha eepdicked
d-e-e-p-d-i-c-k-e-d
(12-06-2013, 08:47 AM)
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Interesting, it does raise the important point that statistically significant is not necessarily socially significant only that is probably a real effect, regardless of size.
Mumei
'Wait and Hope'
(12-06-2013, 01:51 PM)
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Originally Posted by Samarecarm

We are?

Well, I'm sure some people are. But there are also many corners in which it's assumed by default that there are no biological differences between men and women; in fact, it's taken as an assumed truth (when I don't think it's proven by any means).

When an article written for a popular website refers to "we" and it is talking about society generally, it is making a generalization. It is not a statement of unanimity or arguing that every person agrees - it is saying that it reflects popular opinion on the subject. I would argue that the initial reaction to the news of this study, such as the media's choices in how to present it, or the highly credulous way that it was received by the vast majority of respondents on GAF in the previous topic, is indicative of precisely what she's talking about.

Of course, there are many ways in which men and women are alike, but I find the claim that there are no innate differences odd: Wouldn't that make human beings wildly different from the rest of the animal world?

I would suggest reading more of the article than the first paragraph! She specifically addresses this in the last two paragraphs I posted. And while there are some people who would argue that there are no innate differences, those people are not these people.

Originally Posted by Guerilla

Neuroskepticism is not "in fashion now", it's in fashion amongst feminists because they refuse to acknowledge scientific evidence. While I agree with parts of the article that suggest that the press as per usual is reporting with a touch of their own hyperbole the problem again is feminist experts adjusting scientific evidence to their own worldview instead of adjusting their worldview.

This is nonsense. Georgina Robbin is Professor of Cognitive Imaging and Pro-Vice Chancellor (International) at Aston University; Cordelia Fine is an Associate Professor at Melbourne Business School, Australia, and a Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Melbourne, Australia; Dorothy Bishop is Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology at the University of Oxford; Adam Hampshire is Senior Lecturer in Restorative Neurosciences at the Imperial College London; Heidi Johansen-Berg is Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, FMRIB Centre, University of Oxford.

These are not "feminists experts", disputing the findings of a study because it contradicts their worldview and refusing to listen to what Science (TM) says; these are experts in their field who are making specific, reasonable criticisms about the overinterpretation of the data and shortcomings in the study design.

This is the kind of reactionary behaviour that will leave feminism behind, it kind of reminds me religion's insistence on doing the same. I don't understand how a movement that claims to be progressive can be at war with two sciences, evolutionary biology and neuroscience.

I find it odd that you make the argument that feminism is "at war" with evolutionary biology and neuroscience, when it is actually the case that feminist positions on these issues reflect what the current scientific evidence says about many of these issues. And feminist critiques - which also happen to be critiques of experts in relevant fields - of brain organization theory or evolutionary psychology investigations into male-female differences are based in the failure of those fields to address the findings of behavioral neuroendocrinology, human evolutionary behavioral science, and developmental neurobiology which show that the preconceptions they hold - of a unidirectional causal relationship between "genes to behavior via hormones and brains", the idea that we have a "Stone Age" mind, or the idea that prenatal hormones create permanent structural and functional sex differences - are no longer defensible.
Roastbeef
Banned
(12-06-2013, 02:31 PM)

Originally Posted by Mumei

When an article written for a popular website refers to "we" and it is talking about society generally, it is making a generalization. It is not a statement of unanimity or arguing that every person agrees - it is saying that it reflects popular opinion on the subject. I would argue that the initial reaction to the news of this study, such as the media's choices in how to present it, or the highly credulous way that it was received by the vast majority of respondents on GAF in the previous topic, is indicative of precisely what she's talking about.



I would suggest reading more of the article than the first paragraph! She specifically addresses this in the last two paragraphs I posted. And while there are some people who would argue that there are no innate differences, those people are not these people.



This is nonsense. Georgina Robbin is Professor of Cognitive Imaging and Pro-Vice Chancellor (International) at Aston University; Cordelia Fine is an Associate Professor at Melbourne Business School, Australia, and a Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Melbourne, Australia; Dorothy Bishop is Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology at the University of Oxford; Adam Hampshire is Senior Lecturer in Restorative Neurosciences at the Imperial College London; Heidi Johansen-Berg is Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, FMRIB Centre, University of Oxford.

These are not "feminists experts", disputing the findings of a study because it contradicts their worldview and refusing to listen to what Science (TM) says; these are experts in their field who are making specific, reasonable criticisms about the overinterpretation of the data and shortcomings in the study design.



I find it odd that you make the argument that feminism is "at war" with evolutionary biology and neuroscience, when it is actually the case that feminist positions on these issues reflect what the current scientific evidence says about many of these issues. And feminist critiques - which also happen to be critiques of experts in relevant fields - of brain organization theory or evolutionary psychology investigations into male-female differences are based in the failure of those fields to address the findings of behavioral neuroendocrinology, human evolutionary behavioral science, and developmental neurobiology which show that the preconceptions they hold - of a unidirectional causal relationship between "genes to behavior via hormones and brains", the idea that we have a "Stone Age" mind, or the idea that prenatal hormones create permanent structural and functional sex differences - are no longer defensible.

Hey Mumei, you seem to know a lot about this stuff, whereas i've never read a study about the issue, so i'm not gonna try to argue with you on this.
what i'd like to ask you though, is what your opinion on the norwegian documentary "Hjernevask" is.
i found very comprehensive and balanced, and i often refer to it in discussions, but i've learned to be skeptical of everything, so i'd like to hear an educated, if perhaps dissenting opinion on it.

(in case you haven't seen it yet, here's a link to the videos http://www.dailymotion.com/playlist/...1#video=xp0tg8 and one to wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hjernevask )
Partial Gamification
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(12-06-2013, 03:13 PM)
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Witness a recent study that found gender differences in the way brain regions connect with one another, and argued that these differences give men better motor skills and women better “social cognition.” Published in PNAS, the study bore the relatively modest title “Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brain,” but mainstream media headlines made bigger claims: “Different brain wiring in men, women could explain gender differences” (CBS), “Brains of women and men show strong hard-wired differences” (Los Angeles Times), and “The hardwired difference between male and female brains could explain why men are ‘better at map reading’” (the Independent). This is hardly news — media outlets, including Salon, like to choose grabby headlines — but the particular way in which these were grabby is noteworthy. Even if we’re growing skeptical of neuroscience, we as a society seem to love the idea that the difference between the genders is “hard-wired.”

Gender war coverage, men are from Mars and women are from Venus.

We're growing skeptical of neuroscience? It still seems a very power approach with rapidly advancing tools and techniques. Its not entirely confined to neuroscience but the Human Brain Project is Human Genome level of potential impact in science and medicine.

Who is this author? The culture editor of Salon, and I don't want to brush-off the entire article - what happens in the media is hilarious and sad, but her background does not serves any authority she has in asserting a state of 'neuroskepticism.'


There is good science bad science, usually split on the chopping block of statistical quality. Wide-sweeping claims are a good indicator of how much overreach is at play. The behavior/environment issue is something I think influences brain development, but many longitudinal studies are needed.
Hitokage
Setec Astronomer
(12-06-2013, 03:25 PM)
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Given the large range of variability within each gender, differences between the average man and average woman being a basis for any sort of policy is absurd. Even if women were worse than men at math on average, there's no justification for holding back a woman who is highly gifted at math just because the average woman is not.

Furthermore, the larger point on hard-wiring is coming into focus precisely because we're learning just how much of the brain continues to be soft-wired even into adulthood. The brain isn't a fixed organ. It's a playground of neurons which connect themselves, and what you do in life affects those connections. Of course, there may yet be a large degree of predictability in how brains develop, and the brain isn't always as equally plastic throughout life, but the notion that things simply are as they are is being severely undercut.
Last edited by Hitokage; 12-06-2013 at 03:35 PM.
Dylan
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(12-06-2013, 04:19 PM)
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In my opinion, it's naive to think that there are no physical differences, on average, in the brains of men and women. Be it connectivity, availability of certain neurotransmitters, or general size and shape of specific structures, it's logical to assume there are subtle differences.

Obviously, men, on average, can run faster and can lift heavier weights than women. Women have a menstrual cycle. Men have penises. Etc. These are innate physiological differences that I don't think anyone would argue. To say that the brain is somehow exempt from similar differences is kind of silly.
Rm88~
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(12-06-2013, 04:32 PM)
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I also think that's the case, and I feel like people mostly oppose the idea because of idiotic sexist people. If there are innate differences between male and female brains, it's obviously not a black and white situation, as we all know men and women with very different personalities and traits. But I indeed don't think it's a coincidence that feminine traits are mostly present in females, and male traits in males. I don't think that's a social construct, and I think proof of this is that transgender people can't simply grow up thinking "welp, I have X genitals, so I'm obviously a X".
Hitokage
Setec Astronomer
(12-06-2013, 04:50 PM)
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Originally Posted by Dylan

In my opinion, it's naive to think that there are no physical differences, on average, in the brains of men and women. Be it connectivity, availability of certain neurotransmitters, or general size and shape of specific structures, it's logical to assume there are subtle differences.

Obviously, men, on average, can run faster and can lift heavier weights than women. Women have a menstrual cycle. Men have penises. Etc. These are innate physiological differences that I don't think anyone would argue. To say that the brain is somehow exempt from similar differences is kind of silly.

To lump average running speed with having penises is like saying "men have penises on average". While there are most certainly exceptions, the rate of men having a penis is much much higher than a man being able to run fast.

In the end, the individual matters here simply because the variability is so large. Averages do not. You don't put Rob Ford on the track team because he's male, and the fastest women outrun the vast majority of men.
Last edited by Hitokage; 12-06-2013 at 04:53 PM.
Cyan
Purple Drazi
(12-06-2013, 05:14 PM)
Cyan's Avatar

Originally Posted by Dylan

In my opinion, it's naive to think that there are no physical differences, on average, in the brains of men and women. Be it connectivity, availability of certain neurotransmitters, or general size and shape of specific structures, it's logical to assume there are subtle differences.

Obviously, men, on average, can run faster and can lift heavier weights than women. Women have a menstrual cycle. Men have penises. Etc. These are innate physiological differences that I don't think anyone would argue. To say that the brain is somehow exempt from similar differences is kind of silly.

The standard response to any questioning of the hard-wiring paradigm, at least in the kind of cocktail-party setting where a feminist might be engaged in debate about such things (note: I would often prefer to discuss baseball), is some variant on, “So are you saying men and women are exactly the same?”

Rarely is anyone saying that. Rather, what critics of hard-wiring object to is the idea that there are inborn characteristics of the brain that should dictate what men and women do with their lives. Specifically, the argument often runs that since women’s brains are built for nurturing and men’s for analysis, women aren’t fit to be scientists or men to be parents. This in turn leads to the argument that we don’t need social programs to support female scientists or involved dads — or, even more dangerously, that those people who choose to do something their brains are allegedly hard-wired against are deserving of suspicion or discrimination. The problem with the discourse of hard-wiring isn’t so much its descriptive elements (though these can be misguided) but its prescriptive ones. As Jordan-Young and Rumiati write, “Hardwiring is an unethical metaphor because it says ‘what is, must be.’”

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Zeitgeister
Member
(12-06-2013, 05:21 PM)
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Originally Posted by Zaptruder

Dayum. Oh Jonah... Jonah Jonah Jonah....

Why are the best story tellers also so crooked?

Freakonomics dudes, Malcolm Gladwell now Jonah Lehrer...

wait, what? explain, please.
Dylan
Member
(12-06-2013, 05:38 PM)
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Originally Posted by Cyan

.

Yeah I read that part but those are two separate discussions.
Cyan
Purple Drazi
(12-06-2013, 05:42 PM)
Cyan's Avatar

Originally Posted by Dylan

Yeah I read that part but those are two separate discussions.

You are arguing against a position that isn't actually being asserted by anyone, which isn't particularly productive.

At least, if I'm reading you correctly, your argument is "extremists who say there are absolutely no differences between male and female brains are wrong." Yes, I don't think anyone here disagrees.

In this kind of contentious thread, it's probably more useful to engage with what's actually being asserted in the OP or by posters in the thread than with an extreme position that no one is arguing for.
Dylan
Member
(12-06-2013, 05:45 PM)
Dylan's Avatar

Originally Posted by Hitokage

To lump average running speed with having penises is like saying "men have penises on average". While there are most certainly exceptions, the rate of men having a penis is much much higher than a man being able to run fast.

In the end, the individual matters here simply because the variability is so large. Averages do not. You don't put Rob Ford on the track team because he's male, and the fastest women outrun the vast majority of men.

I just meant that there are obvious physiological differences and thus there are probably differences in the brain too. One very obvious one is that the somatosensory cortex of a male brain will have neurons dedicated to their ball sack, at least according Kandel's controversial "Ball Sack Neuron Hypothesis, 1969".

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