Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

Neuromythology? March 25, 2008

Filed under: gender,science,sex,Uncategorized — jj @ 9:10 pm

Scientific research arguably involves a high capacity for  systematic thinking, where a love of discovering repeated patterns seems  to be a help.  In addition, science often requires long periods of solitary reflection or immersion in the labs, apart from partner and family. 

Why are there many more men in this life than women?  Is it a matter of socialization, genetics or both?

There’s a well-known answer, based to a large extent on Baron-Cohen’s work described here.   And the answer goes as follows:  It is first argued that the characteristics of scientific inquiry also show up in some conditions of neuro-difference, particularly in people on the autism spectrum.  But such people are MUCH more likely to be men.  So it seems reasonable to think that autism is a variant on the average male brain.  And that leaves women outside this cluster of the systematicizing people who can tolerate relatively restricted social lives.  And outside science.

Is this MYTH or more like fact?

It turns out that there’s another way to explain the prevalence of men among autists without committing oneself to anything more about the male brain.  And it is this:  Most men have one X chromosone from their mothers and a  Y one from their fathers, while most women have an X from each.  That means in general that men carry their mother’s and not their father’s X chromosones.  Suppose something that prevents or mitigates autism is carried on the paternal X chromosone.  Then women will get  it and men won’t, which means that few women will have autism compared to men.

And in fact Turner’s syndrome, which characterizes women with a single full X chromosone, tends to be accompanied by autism when the chromosone is the mother’s, but not when it is the father’s.  This is some comfirmation for the paternal-prevention hypothesis. 

Given such competing hypotheses, we are still in the land of conjecture when we talk about autism as a form of ‘the male mind.’  And when we analyse or defend social policy or practice on such a basis, we should worry seriously that we are enacting a myth.

How, one might ask, could a man have acquired a non-preventing X chromosone from his mother, but pass on a preventive one.  Understanding this really takes us into the difficult literature on the ways in which genes depend on the environment of the chromosone for their expression.  But the question is really well studied, and a good place to see it is to search under the names “Creswell and Skuse,” who apparently initiated by study of Turner’s and the occurrence of autism as genetically linked to the X chromozone.

I’m very indebted to Jamie Ward’s The Student’s Guide to Cognitive Neuroscience, pages 323-324, which has been an invaluable text for a class I teach.

 

“I want a metal doctor!”

Filed under: race — Jender @ 2:45 pm

Jender-Son is 2 and a half.  He loves to describe everything, and is very fond of adjectives.  It’s never ‘Oooh– cup!’, but always ‘Oooh– big big red and blue cup’.  We’ve always thought this was a thoroughly good thing.  Until today, when I was getting ready to take him to the doctor.  Coming out of his room he said “I want a blue doctor!”.  I told him there weren’t any blue doctors. Same with red doctors.  Then:  “I want a yellow doctor!”  Oof.  I began to realise where this might lead, thinking of the Indian doctor we were about to see.  What could possibly be more embarrassing, I thought to myself with horror, than a gleeful toddler yelling “Oooh– brown doctor!”  I found out in the next instant, as he began shouting “I want a white doctor!  I want a white doctor!”.  I started trying to explain to him that people get upset when you talk about what colour they are.  And thinking frantically about how to explain this further.  Then I breathed a sigh of relief as he began shouting over and over “I want a metal doctor!”   But it got me thinking about how tricky teaching all this to kids can be.  He’ll want to know why it’s great to talk about colours of everything but people, and I’ll need to find a way of explaining it while also making it clear that colour of people in *some* sense doesn’t matter at all.  But also that it does matter, because for a long time people have assigned significance to it, and that affects people’s lives in huge ways, and….  Why doesn’t he just ask me where babies come from??  That conversation would be easy!

 

 
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