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.