Cordelia Fine has an article in the first issue of a new, free, online journal, Neuroethics; it’s entitled, “Will Working Mothers’ Brains Explode? The Popular New Genre of Neurosexism.” We’ve blogged about neurosexism before in a post about single-sex education, and this article covers some of the same issues from a more general perspective.
One book she discusses is Simon Baron-Cohen’s 2003 book, The essential difference: Men, women and the extreme male brain. (London: Allen Lane.) This is one of those books that celebrates the fact that, as a matter of biological destiny, men do important things with science and public life while women take care of social relations. Too many people take it at its word, no doubt in part because Baron-Cohen has done a lot of highly respected work on ASD, the autism spectrum disorder. In his view, autism is a manifestation of an extreme male brain, and so…. .
(In thinking about this, I’m reminded of my son’s nursery school, which forbid the children from playing Mommy and Daddy (or: cook-comforter and consumer). So the children played a form of Bambi, with the boys wounded deer and the girls nurses. One suspects Baron-Cohen’s more literally adult fantasy is scientist and wife. Children: there are alternatives!)
One of the issues is the responsibility of journalists in writing about what various people are doing with supposedly “the results” in cognitive neuroscience:
Mark Liberman has suggested that “misleading appeals to the authority of ‘brain research’ have become the modern equivalent of out-of-context scriptural fragments.” . Noting, along with Rivers and Barnett , that baseless neuroscientific ‘facts’ about gender differences are already having an impact on educational policies, for example, he argues that journalists have a real responsibility to fact-check the accuracy of neuroscientific claims. The need for journalists to take on this responsibility takes on an extra import when one considers our susceptibility to poor neuroscientific explanations, together with the way that biological accounts of gender, and the stereotypes about male versus female abilities that they promote, can measurably alter our beliefs, self-identity and abilities.
In response to the earlier post here on arguments for single-sex schools based on alleged findings in neuroscience, smatty referred to a Language Log post, Blinding us with Science, from which the Liberman quote above comes. It contains a number of references that are very useful if you are trying to think through the issues involved in evaluating the claims in favor of single sex schools.
[Thanks to JW for the neurosexism reference.]