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Archive for the ‘Biological determinism’ Category

The Lay Scientist on eugenics

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Nice piece on eugenics:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/the-lay-scientist/2011/feb/23/2

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Written by daijones

March 6, 2011 at 11:49 pm

Science and politics

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A bit of a storm in the science world recently, when a researcher suggested that the reason women were under-represented in scientific fields was because they’re intrinsically less capable of scientific thinking. There was uproar from those who reject the notion of essential, biologically founded gender differences in higher cognitive functioning, as you might expect. Then there was the usual response from those who are pro difference: claims that that they’re the ones doing proper science, and finding “facts”; and any refusal to accept those facts is no more than political correctness. Cordelia Fine, author of the excellent Delusions of Gender, responds to those arguments here:

http://blogs.plos.org/blog/2011/02/11/let’s-say-good-bye-to-the-straw-feminist/

This is one instance of the usual argument, but the take home message is about the way the argument always plays out: on one side, people claim to be proper scientists who objectively find the truth, and any gain sayers are politically motivated; and on the other, there are people pointing out that the so called science is confounded by a range of social variables, and the claims that are made are unsupportable. We see the same argument in terms of race difference research amongst other areas. In terms of what we cover on the degree, the first side represent examples of what we describe as the “myth of objectivity”, claims of scientific truth being used to hide a political agenda.

Written by daijones

February 16, 2011 at 1:18 am

Gender in pop psychology

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Nice piece in the Guardian on the popularity of gender difference claims in pop psychology, and the absence of firm evidence for the same:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/nov/14/women-men-differences-science-stereotypes

Written by daijones

November 16, 2010 at 2:15 am

Yet again the media uses brain science to denigrate women

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I love the Daily Mash, but it’s undoubtedly funnier when you know the story they’re satirising. Sadly, when I first saw this article I didn’t know the background, so couldn’t get full benefit…

http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3192&Itemid=77

Happily for me, Dr Petra Boynton has commented on the original research, focussing on the media’s reporting of it. This post is typically informative and illuminating, but also makes the Daily Mash post more fun:

http://www.drpetra.co.uk/blog/women-with-low-libidos-have-different-brains/

Dr Petra’s post includes links to other blogs criticising methodological aspects of the study being reported on.

This kind of research is typical of the modern trend towards seeking brain based explanations, as if they were sufficient, and the media is happy to lap this up. But even if the study were methodologically sound, what would it tell us? The implication is that differences in brain state cause differences in libido, but then what causes the differences in brain state? From my point of view, the brain state is a reflection of the psychological condition, rather than the cause of it. The Daily Mash perhaps puts it best:

But Dr Logan’s wife, Emma, said: “My study suggests very strongly that it’s not me it’s you, you fat, bald, stinky little shit.

“If I don’t like sex, then what the fuck are all those tea lights doing in the bathroom?”

Written by daijones

October 29, 2010 at 12:23 am

Posted in Biological determinism, Media, Quick Link

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Reducing stigma towards mental health?

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A good piece in today’s Bad Science following the media fuss about an alleged genetic basis for ADHD. It’s commonly assumed that ascribing a genetic explanation to a condition will reduce stigma towards it. However, in this piece Ben Goldacre presents copious evidence that bio-medical, rather than psycho-social, explanations of mental illness actually increases stigma rather than reduces it.

http://www.badscience.net/2010/10/pride-and-prejudice/

Written by daijones

October 9, 2010 at 12:27 am

Posted in Biological determinism, Quick Link

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Discriminating by eye colour

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I mentioned in PY108 the other day that discriminating between groups on the basis of skin colour is no more valid than discriminating on the basis of eye colour. To show the endless capacity of humans to be nasty bastards, a US teacher did just that in a series of classroom exercises following the assassination of Martin Luther King. To bring the reality of discrimination alive to her children, she split the class into blue eyed and brown eyed groups, treating the groups differently – on different days, one group was treated as the superior, and the other as the inferior. The results are remarkable, especially in showing how treating people in a particular way can lead to changes in behaviour and other outcomes. So, students who were being treated as inferior – discriminated against – on a particular day performed more poorly in their work.

If this happens in the small microcosm of a short term school study, how likely is it that observed differences in IQ between “racial” groups in a society that remains discriminatory can similarly be explained as the results of discrimination? To my mind that’s a much more likely explanation of racial differences in IQ than any recall to genetics. Genetic explanations will appeal to those who would prefer not to confront such societal discrimination, or who even tacitly approve of it, while social explanations will appeal to those who believe in the potential of changing society to remove such discrimination. This difference reflects the difference between the managerialist and interventionist views of psychology’s role in society that we discussed.

Anyway, there’s a very good TV documentary in the PBS-funded FRONTLINE series now available on-line. It’s well worth watching, or at least reading the associated material. You can see it here:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/divided/

Written by daijones

October 7, 2010 at 7:20 pm

Posted in Biological determinism, Full post

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The Gender Gap Myth

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Remarkably, a sensible discussion of gender differences in the media:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/sep/10/gender-gap-myth-cordelia-fine

Fine’s book, discussed in the article, sounds very good. Another good book making a  similar case is Lise Eliot’s Pink Brain Blue Brain. Both of these books run counter to the standard presentation in pop psychology of essential, biologically grounded, gender differences in psychological characteristics.

Written by daijones

September 11, 2010 at 7:56 pm