Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences by Cordelia Fine. Interesting book by a science journalist pointing out that research suggesting innate brain differences between the sexes has been heavily exaggerated, especially in the popular press. It doesn't mean that no differences exists, but the certainty and scale of them seems to have been heavily exaggerated; and social differences tend to be interpreted as innate brain differences. She calls the association of this with traditional stereotyping "neurosexism"
In the first part of the book, Fine points out some problems in the studies. For example, if you ask people to fill in questionnaires about how empathic they are, women report that they are much better at reading emotions and thoughts than men. But Fine points out that there are other studies that try to test this directly, by secretly videorecording two participants, getting them to report on what they were thinking and feeling, then getting them to guess what the other participant thought and felt. Despite women's self-reported greater empathy, they don't seem to actually exhibit it.
Fine also reports on how before taking gender-differentiating tests, (for instance, men are better able to mentally rotate objects), the subjects can be primed with information on which sex is supposed to do better. When men are told that object-rotation is associated with greater ability at fashion design and interior decoration, their object-rotation ability declines. When women are told they are expected to do worse, their performances gets worse; when better, they do better. When a reward of $2 per correct answer is offered, both sexes start to do better at their weaker tests.
These corrections don't necessarily wipe out all the gender-related differences. But when you consider that a lifetime of practice and social conditioning is also involved, the differences seem less significant.
In the later half of the book, Fine goes through the research and many books on male and female brains, pointing out that the assertions are generally exaggerated, and sometimes completely false or self-contradictory. I found this section less interesting, as it seems a bit like shooting fish in a barrel at times. But I've read Love of Shopping is Not a Gene (diary) The Myth of Mars and Venus and (diary) so this is fairly familiar territory.
Towards the end there's a bit more interesting content as Fine investigates how even young children are subject to social influences on gender, subject to peer pressure; and well aware of gender roles even when their parents think they have been neutral. She also points out that supposed male-female differenced vary between cultures. She points out that despite the theory of "greater male variability" that more males lie at the extremes and therefore more men will be very good at maths, in some cultures women do very well even in the Maths Olympiad.
The book's copiously footnoted with plenty of references. The actual content is only 239 pages, so the hardback's not great value: might be better waiting for the paperback.
Overall, interesting content, decently written, worth reading.
Vague thoughts on politics
Saw an interesting phrase in this US article "the libertarian nihilist hates government so much that he'd rather see it malfunction than work as well as it possibly can."
That brought to mind the Vodafone tax write-off. After cutting the numbers and the budget of tax-collectors, the government seems to be losing large amounts of tax revenue.
George Monbiot suspect that this may be deliberate. David Cameron wants to redefine what fairness means. To him, the rich are virtuous and the poor are scroungers, so true fairness means making the rich richer and the poor poorer. Or "giving people what they deserve"
However there's probably little appetite in the UK for blatant tax cuts for the rich right now. So, slashing away the tax-collectors might be a good Libertarian Nihilist way of achieving the same end. By rendering the government less capable of collecting taxes from the rich, he can achieve the same end of reducing their taxes, without having to justify it to the voters.
At the other end of the scale, there is the much-hyped crackdown on the "habit of worklessness". Chris Dillow has done a bit of number crunching on how many people with this habit there really are. He points out that before the recession, there were 108,000 people claiming Job-Seekers Allowance for over a year, which is an upper limit on the number of supposed workshy scroungers1. Now, that's still under 7% of the number of people, so at least 93% of people claiming are just doing it temporarily.
In other words, the vast majority of JSA claimants are using the system as intended. But Cameron and Osborne don't want people to think of them as fellow citizens using a safety net they've helped pay for to get them through a rough patch; but an underclass of scroungers, and making a fuss helps cement that impression.
Politics Footnote 1
That doesn't mean there are definitely that many deliberate scroungers. Some of the 108,000 will have been genuinely looking for work for more than a year. Some of them will be unemployable under any circumstances: out of the UK's population of 61 million, I wouldn't be surprised if close to 100,000 were just too stupid, unstable or addicted to hold down a job.
Random. Brand recognition quiz (I got 13/25).
Update [2010-11-10 22:6:26 by TheophileEscargot]:
Attention Breaker Infidel
When discussing the daft charges levelled at UAF official Weyman Bennett after the Bolton protest in March I said:
You like predictions, so here's one from me: either the charge against Weyman Bennett will be dropped, or he will be found innocent. I expect to be judged on this, and will apologize if I'm wrong.Just heard:
The police have dropped all charges against leading UAF members Weyman Bennett and Rhetta Moran arising from the demonstration against the racist English Defence League in March.
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