Etikettarkiv: Steven Pinker

Women, Maths and Careers – an Unholy Trinity?

It is perhaps not strange that gender theory and feminism never really made it big in countries like Somalia and Colombia, where laws, norms and culture unequivocally suggests harsh control of women’s behavior and exertion of power. But to witness a conservatively driven anti-feminist movement in places like Sweden, Denmark and USA, where political changes in the law as well as in social norms have clearly made it easier to express oneself regardless of sexuality, puzzles me.

To be critical of the different ways in which government money is spent is both healthy and democratically necessary; To be critical of research findings, for example within Gender Studies, is equally important and healthy. But to condemn the very existence of it to the same hell as phrenology and other atrocities is just mind-boggling. Have we really achieved a perfect, power-balanced, sexually free, non-racist, non-discriminatory society today?? No, we have not, and the dissent spilling out from blogs and conservative philosophers and op-ed writers is of course deeply rooted in ideology – not a rational consideration of gender studies and science.

One topic that always stirs up freakish debate is women, gender and mathematics. A basic look at the number of professor of mathematics show that around 10 % of professor posts in the US are occupied by women, a staggering number for anyone wishing to propose the relative cognitive similarities between men and women. Psychologist Stephen Ceci writes at Psychology Today about his new book “The Mathematics of Sex: How Biology and Society Conspire to Limit Talented Women and Girls” about some basic findings of the great gender gap in maths. What they find is that ” The imbalance in math-intensive careers can not be accounted for by sex differences in mathematical and spatial ability that have been reported between male and females (to the extent that this is a factor, it is a minor one), nor can they be attributed to current biases, though past cohort discrepancies may be explained in such terms, because women are hired for tenure-track positions at rates roughly comparable to their proportions in the scientific Ph.D. pools–and often at rates slightly above their proportions.”

His explanation is far more complex further on: by looking at how society expects women to make a unproportonatly large sacrifice for family and children during their thirties right after the completion of the PhD. The presupposition that women always must take a unproportnatly large responsibility of children permeates society in general, and is to no help for women but of course gives licence to men not to be forced into such sacrifice and thus keeping their carriers flawless at the expense of their wifes and girlfriends.

When Steve Pinker and Elisabeth Spelke went at each other by means of evolutionary psychology and sociology, they were arguing from two different standpoints and research outlooks: The study of men’s and women’s relationships and individual choices is far more complex than just reducing their performance to either social skills or innate faculties. Once more the million-dollar question to be asking ourselves is: who is gaining from either side? I myself would like to see justice and freedom of choice for women, children and men, but in order to get there we must keep refining our analyses and meta-analyses of research concerning all aspects of life. Feminist analysis of things cannot stop at some time, just because a few of us find the struggle meaningless. It is a perpetual analysis required at all times to make sure we do not fall into any structural or neurological fallacies.

For more on this enjoy some research of the male and female brain.

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Gender Wars in Academia – Oh, But My Government Made Me Do It!

Ever since the President of Harvard Larry Summers on a sunny day in April 22, 2005 commented on sex differences between men and women and how they may relate to the careers of women in science the Heat has been On. Summers was forced to resign over the heat he drew upon himself. But the seminar at Harvard University was about the research on mind, brain, and behavior relevant to gender disparities in the sciences, including the studies of bias, discrimination and innate and acquired difference between the sexes. The Edge reports on one of the most vivid debates between Elisabeth Spelke and Steven Pinker – nurture vs nature in a battle between two great psychologists.

Further reading on the brain and gender

In Sweden gender troubles have been illuminated in many different fields and in general all large state organizations have equality plans to help facilitate a discussion and move toward less discrimination. But now the backlash is a fact: the universities of Lund and Göteborg have both in recent cases been the targets of policies implemented from above in order to secure a gender perspective on all research fields. People like Steven Sampson have raged against the idea of a gender certificate stating that it is a way of the feminist forces to issue their influence upon the rest of the university. And yes, surely it is an idea that is using the worst of leftist paternalistic strategies, but there is nothing principally bad with the idea of letting a power perspective influence research in various fields of the university.

But the question of the female brain and the strategies of erasing bias from our public sphere must be held at a reasonable distance from each other. You cannot make swift inference from a few MRI’s and connect it to an immediate policy decision where teachers at universities are forced to give equal time in the class room to males and females, as is the case in a recent report in Sweden. My view, as always, is that the cognitive research in this field must be expanded and the humanities must come closer to scientific knowledge. Science in turn must start a discussion of political bias in Academia in order to stop the slanted and patriarchal structuring in all forms of knowledge production and development.

An important point made by neuroscientist Melissa Hines when discussing gender/sex in the brain is that the once-established dichotomy between sex and gender is really impossible to sanction. Mainly because the supposition that certain aspects should be analyzed biologically (sex) and others socially (gender) is from a brain perspective wrong, the social brain and the physical brain cannot be separated.

Further reading to recommend:

Annica Dahlström one of the leading proponents of the nature assumption of gender says it all.

The sexual brain by Simon LeVay

Brain Gender by Melissa Hines

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More on God, God, God, Faitheism and Francis Collins

There ain’t no doubt that the elephant in the room – religion and its claim of realism – is the greatest intellectual battle of today, and right now everybody starts to talk abut it. A number of texts have recently flagged this topic and looking at the debate I feel that it is a great and challenging battle, really. Jerry Coyne over at Why Evolution is True is really stirring up his mistrust of accomodationists, now wittily called faitheists (although I think templetons would have been more suiting). He argues that atheists that try to bridge the gap of science and religion by giving license to religious people to work in science are wrong: based on modern science Jesus cannot have risen from the dead; you cannot be a virgin and give birth to a baby boy and miracles do not exist. I agree with Coyne on the science stuff, but his views are not unpolitical: if we are ever to bridge gaps between the majority of the world’s population and us atheists, how is this to happen if our message to all spiritual people is: anything you think you are claiming about your longings and spiritual feelings must first be acknowledged by science, and by the way, if you ever thinkin’ about going into science – don’t!

Sorry Coyne, I just do not see how you think we can survive in the long run without accommodating religious individuals. It’s either that or slowly turning them into “the other”.

But the real row has these days been over the Obama appointment of Francis Collins’s as head of the National Institutes of Health in the US. Coyne, P Z Myers, Steve Pinker and others have rightfully ushered in a bag of critique over this choice. Collins is an esteemed member of the science elite, but also a theist, believing that evolution is both natural and guided by the Good Lord. He has until a few days ago publicly sanctioned this view through his BioLogos theory and his foundation that supports it. Now, I am fully backing criticism of Collins and some of his factual statements, but as for his private view of the meaning of life, I will not stand in front of him trying to reduce his religions experience to neurons and social circumstances. So this is a tricky one.

As a pragmatist I see plenty of opportunities here: 1. The debate of science and religion can only be deepened and developed from here – great! 2. Having a religious super-expert in genetics and science as a poster boy for religious America is great opportunity, not for the science loving atheists, but for everyone else!

The SF Chronicle has published nice bio of Francis Collins and I must say that he has my uttermost respect; lets see what he can do.

More faitheists have published in Dagens Nyheter recently, mostly as a critique against the Humanist movement in Sweden (In America they call themselves Brights). Writer Inger Edelfeldt talks about the danger of eradicating “God” and “religion” from our culture since it contains so much that is not all that bad, and in today’s paper critic Leif Zern agrees.

Over at the London ICA Terry Eagelton destroys arguments from Dawkins about why to do away with religion during a lecture a few weeks ago:

Dawkins seems to think that science has done away with faith. But, as Eagleton points out, this is like arguing that ‘thanks to the electric toaster we can now dispense with Chekhov’. Science and Religion were never meant to answer the same questions, so the one can never resolve the arguments of the other. Dawkins’ mistake, Eagleton says, is to ‘assume that all faith is blind faith.’ In fact ‘true’ faith incorporates reason: ‘faith is not exclusive of reason, but neither is it reducible to it’. (as retold by blogger Tom at Spoonfed)

The Economist this week reports of strange atheist camps for kids. Not strange because they learn valuable lessons of doubt, science and critical thinking but because the camp itself utilizes the methods of a Jesus camp practiced by some of the worst fundamentalists caught on tape.

The debate over why we are here continues. By the way, chck out Francis Collins and others the Templeton science fesival last year:

What it Means to be Human (Part 4/5) from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

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Buying and unzipping your genes – Steven Pinker + Design darwinisim

Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker

Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard University explores the field of genomic consumption in an NY Times article and magnificently discusses ways of buying info on your personal predisposition from everything to being an outgoing person to likelihood of getting Alzheimer’s. For $399 you can now check yourself for disease risks and ancestry data, but on the flip side, more complex things such as knowing if you will find happiness, wont be disclosed. Pinker makes the admirable effort of presenting a sane and in depth view of behavioral genetics and implications for the search of our self, an endeavour we both have been pursuing and fearing since the early days of humanity. In the pursuit of who and what we are there is always the will to simplify things: Famous plaeontologuist Stephen Jay Gould was later in his life asked the origins of his interest in biology and could with accuracy pinpoint it to the time his father took him to see the dinosaurs when he was 5.

Bullsh**, says Pinker, it is only the human being trying to understand itself. The real deal is: we have really no idea what constitutes our current personal traits, although genetics is a major part, no doubt. But the nature-nurture matrix is necessary to delve into, since we never really know when and how culture really affects a personal trait or decision we make. Psychologist Judith Rich Harris have, for example, stressed the random ”accidents” in life, dropping a ball or getting dumped by your high school sweatheart. This then translates as an event that catered to your genetic predisposition making you forget some things and remembering other, more vividly.

But important is also to stress the academic fallacies sneaking into this discussion, Pinker mentions a few and but let me also add one important fallacy theory – the Winner’s curse in academic publishing as John Ioannidis writes in PLoS. This principle uses the economic notion of the Winner’s curse looking at the possible exaggeration by researchers when seeking to publish their stuff. By then overselling themselves they might be trumpeting dramatic results that might sound very good, but later prove to be false. the truth might not be as likable or sellable as the exaggeration.

design darwin

Linda Rapell goes Darwin

From the other side of the ring, Swedish design historian, Linda Rampell, offers an interesting freestyle of the commercial and aesthetic components of who we are, or would like to be, in her book The Design darwinism. In it she surfaces the consumption of design as an important formation of homo kapitalismus, the new humanoid she tries to delineate. The most interesting notion of Rampell is that we are producers as well as consumers of the self: we buy our identity, skin color and cultural status, but we likewise try to sell this product that is me, to our peer group and the surrounding society. She also does a little Deleuze-hating by interpreting his his notion of the ”self as becoming” as a fact that further iterates today’s consuming of multi-identities. Wonder what Gilles would think of that!

Anyway: Looking forward to read her next books on the subject, even though this first one was a bit basic. Ending here with a comforting paragraph by Pinker:

Forget the “Gattaca” corporations that scan people’s DNA to assign them to castes, the employers or suitors who hack into your genome to find out what kind of worker or spouse you’d make. Let them try; they’d be wasting their time.

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