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Delusions of Gender The Real Science Behind Sex

A vehement dismantling of the latest pseudo scientific claims about the differences between the sexes Sex based discrimination is supposedly a relic of the distant past Yet popular books magazines and even scientific articles increasingly defend continuing inequalities between the sexes by calling on immutable biological differences between the male and the female brain Why are there so few women in science and engineering so few men in the laundry room? Well they say it’s our brains Drawing on the latest research in developmental psychology neuroscience and education Delusions of Gender rebuts these claims showing how old myths dressed up in new scientific finery help perpetuate the status quo This book reveals the brain’s remarkable plasticity shows the substantial influence of culture on identity and ultimately exposes just how much of what we consider “hardwired” is actually malleable empowering us to break free of the supposed predestination of our sex chromosomes


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    This is a remarkably good book and anyone who's remotely interested in claims that there might be inherent differences in mental function between men and women should read it It's insightful carefully researched well written and often very funny And if it doesn't make you change your mind about at least a few things in this area you are either a remarkably knowledgable person or an incurable bigotI had read a few books and articles that touched on the subject of inherent gender differences and I'm afraid I had swallowed them rather uncritically Without understanding any of the details I had absorbed the vague idea that science had now established with the help of modern neuro imaging techniques that there were clear differences between male and female brains Men had stronger spatial and mathematical skills and women had stronger verbal and emotional skills and this all dovetailed sensibly with various biological and evolutionary storiesFine who works in psychology and appears to know the literature well demonstrates that this story absolutely fails to stand up to critical examination The science of gender differences turns out to be very bad science indeed it seems that everyone has an agenda and is willing to do whatever it takes to advance it Researchers carry out poorly designed experiments with inadequate numbers of subjects and then draw sweeping conclusions from differences which are not even clearly significant They look at coarse measures of activation in parts of the brain whose functions are still largely unclear and mysteriously deduce general cognitive principles relying on the fact that few people know how to interpret a brain scan In surprisingly many cases they flat out lie I am shocked though I suppose this just shows how naive I am I have worked for a long time in Artificial Intelligence a field that is notorious for overhyping its achievements Somehow I had thought these people were better than us but that does not appear to be trueHaving read Fine's masterly demolition job it is tempting to jump to the other extreme and conclude that there are no inherent differences between male and female minds and that those differences we see are entirely due to social conditioning I do not think however that that would be true to the deeper spirit of the book Fine who comes across as an admirable person is upfront about the fact that no one is neutral in this debate and she does not even pretend to be neutral herself this is indeed one of the things which makes her writing so amusing She shows how researchers time after time have made claims about gender differences which in hindsight have turned out to be utterly absurd The rational response is to be as skeptical as possible about all such claims and I will pay Fine the compliment of treating her own arguments with the same skepticism I am indeed convinced by the way she refutes arguments that women are incapable of performing as well as men on a variety of tasks where they have traditionally been supposed inferior The section on the notorious spatial rotation task was particularly startling But there are all the same a number of facts which I do not think are obviously explained inside the framework she describes here With some misgivings I will outline what they are To begin there is the uncontroversial fact that autism and Asperger's Syndrome are far common in men than in women I know a fair amount about this from personal experience my older son is autistic and I have spent a large part of my life interacting with chessplayers computer scientists mathematicians and other groups where Asperger's types turn out to be common It is hard to believe that this is coincidential The highly focused obsessive narrow Asperger's mindset seems to be a natural fit to these occupations or exactly to certain ways of approaching these occupations I would like to make it clear that I am in no way saying that women cannot be chessplayers mathematicians or computer scientists I know many women who are world class in these fields But there is a way of doing such things which is characteristically Asperger'sautistic and hence characteristically male The clearest and most extreme example I can come up with is inventing a new chess opening There are several hundred accepted chess openings and to the best of my knowledge none of them have been invented by women Why is this? Obviously I don't know but here are some thoughts Inventing a chess opening is something that requires a great deal of talent and hard work but there is something to it than that which is hard to pin down the best description I have seen is in Lev Polugaevsky's wonderful book Grandmaster Preparation which I have read many times Basically inventing an opening is not a useful activity in any normal sense of the word Most strong chessplayers most World Champions even have never invented an opening It is not likely to make you successful competitively since most new openings are soon refuted and fall into disuse the rational thing to do from this point of view is to use other people's openings It is not necessarily very creative The real reward is that it appeals to a kind of stubbornness The person who invents the opening goes his own way against the whole world just to show that he can Thinking in this way is a kind of madness that is much commoner in men It is not so much that women can't do it it is that hardly any women can see why they would want to do it which is entirely sensible But somehow society as a whole seems to benefit from the existence of this small group of people who are willfully different even if the majority of them have wasted their lives without achieving anything Chess is a richer and interesting game because there are all these different paths one can takeSo Fine hasn't convinced me that men and women really do think alike at the deepest level I believe it will be a long time before we understand what's going on there But she has convinced me that the facile arguments about brain scans proving that women are inherently wired to read emotions but not to understand calculus are utter crap If you haven't already done so check out this book Postscript about a year and a half laterI'm glad to say that I might have been wrong about women and chess openings Looking at Bologan's book on the Chebanenko Slav it certainly seems like there's a case for a Stefanova Variation it goes 1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nc3 a6 5 a4 e6 6 Bg5 and now Stefanova's trademark reply is 6 a5? reaching the following positionBologan thinks it may be the best move and explicitly mentions former Women's World Champion Antoaneta Stefanova as the person who's done most to help make it respectable indeed a quick look at the Chessbase online game database shows that she's defended this position eight times drawing seven and winning one One of her opponents was Beliavsky a previous top 10 player and still very strongGo Stefanova Surely others will follow where she has led? Update Apr 20 2015Former World Championship finalist Nigel Short enters the debate details hereDespite the fact that my lifetime score against Grandmaster Short is 2 0 in my favor I would like to make it clear that I in no way consider myself intelligent than he is Statistics can be very misleading when taken out of context Update May 30 2015The Chessbase site today posted another piece on gender differences in chess and academia Women in chess the role of innate ability beliefs by Wei Ji Ma Although the paper is interesting and makes some excellent points I'm struck by the way the participants in this debate seem to be talking past each other Ma says early on that the available statistical evidence indicates that gender differences in achievement are largely or entirely due to differences in participation But this is exactly what the Howard study quoted by Short claims is not trueI think we need actual data here It would be particularly interesting to see the Howard analysis repeated with proper attention paid to obvious sources of bias introduced by the fact that women play disproportionately often against other women Update Feb 2 2016Nigel Short whose comments about women and chess have been widely circulated lost earlier this week to Harika Dronavalli India in the third round of the Gibraltar Masters Despite the fact that GM Harika thoroughly outplayed him and won a good game as Black it would be premature to draw any sweeping conclusions from a single result Update Apr 15 2017Hou Yifan the highest rated woman player in the world posted a disappointing loss against Vassily Ivanchuk in their recent match But today she came back strong in the first round of the GRENKE Classic and destroyed Fabiano Caruana who's currently World 4 She then followed up by beating Meier a normally very solid German grandmaster and drawing with World Champion CarlsenGo Hou Update Apr 19 2017From a recent interview with chess legend Alexander MorozevichBetween a man and a woman there are differences and significant ones but we’re all first and foremost people Can I simply looking at the notation of a game say that it was played by a woman? I tried it a couple of times and I didn’t manage – there are no clear differences In the results meanwhile there are differences and only a few women have so far been capable of playing on the level of the men’s Top 100 and I don’t fully understand why that’s the case In other intellectual games the proportions are or less the same with the very top occupied by men It would be interesting to do research on that topic Women in chess have one undoubted advantage they can play in men’s tournaments while we can’t play in women’s I once asked a FIDE official “Why is there such an injustice?” His answer surpassed all my expectations “You understand there’s a World Championship for women and a World Championship for people” Update Aug 2 2017Hou Yifan just won the Biel Grandmaster tournament ahead of a field that included a former world champion a former world championship challenger and three other players currently in the world top 40 Details hereNice going Hou