Brain Myths and Bad Science

The Smithsonian magazine has an article about brain myths. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Top-Ten-Myths-About-the-Brain.html

Item #10 on that list is the myth that there are major differences between male and female brains. The article states:

10. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.
Some of the sloppiest, shoddiest, most biased, least reproducible, worst designed and most overinterpreted research in the history of science purports to provide biological explanations for differences between men and women. Eminent neuroscientists once claimed that head size, spinal ganglia or brain stem structures were responsible for women’s inability to think creatively, vote logically or practice medicine. Today the theories are a bit more sophisticated: men supposedly have more specialized brain hemispheres, women more elaborate emotion circuits. Though there are some differences (minor and uncorrelated with any particular ability) between male and female brains, the main problem with looking for correlations with behavior is that sex differences in cognition are massively exaggerated.

So of course right after reading that I come across this nonsense in the Wall Street Journal from APRIL 30, 2011.  The Online World of Female Desire.

The author, a computational neuroscientist, draws some of the most ridiculous conclusions from analyzing website data. Read the comments for some of the objections to those. I don’t even want to go into how stupid the conclusions are and how fraught with bogus correlation. That doesn’t even count the abject stereotyping, heteronormative rest of the bullshit.  I’m not a little girl looking for either a daddy or a baby-daddy.

“Feminine intuition” is some kind of stereotypical folk myth that the dude is trying to pump up with statistics but fails miserably. But you know he’s got a book to sell.

And it’s not only about women. Men with “…the much simpler male brain” may have trouble understanding that. Yes he did write that phrase.

If this shit is what passes for science, with it’s alleged objective of truth, then we’d better move back into the caves quick. Ridiculous.

Almost as ridiculous as the recent Kanazawa incident at Psychology today where he tried to put forward distorted data to say that black women were not as attractive as others mostly due to increased testosterone. Not only is the testosterone hypothesis completely the opposite of what is found in most studies the definition of “attractiveness” is not even elucidated. It’s eugenics wrapped up in bullshit evolutionary psychology plain and simple. P. Z. Myers brought up many good points as did some PT bloggers. Here’s a couple of links from Pharyngula blog discussing the matter.

I guess even Psychology Today has limits

Not everyone at Psychology Today is incompetent

When alleged scientists are so biased and blinded by their own social conditioning, beliefs and desire to publish anything at any cost it’s very difficult to take them any more seriously than some of the most wacked out religious believers.

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One comment on “Brain Myths and Bad Science

  1. The Kanazawa incident was really puzzling. Leafing through any illustrated book of art history should make it rather clear that the notion of attractiveness is incredibly powerfully socially conditioned. I’m quite sure that by the time you’re able to express an opinion about it, you will already have absorbed a huge chunk of it. So even if his statistical analysis had held up, the much likelier explanation for it would have been good ol’ racism.

    I’m sure there’s some stuff like symmetry there that’s not conditioned so much, but still.

    The same goes for this male/female brain thing. They’re plastic things, and if you start shaping males and females in different ways from birth, it’s hardly surprising that statistically significant neural differences will emerge by the time they’re adults.

    Which, again, isn’t to say that there mightn’t be *something* there that isn’t due to conditioning.

    In general, I don’t get this deep need for biological determinism this kind of stuff shows.

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