Prejudice masquerading as fact

Angela Saini, author of Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong, on that memo.

A portion of his argument is indeed based on published science. In particular, there is a school of neuroscience that tries to popularise the notion that male and female brains are distinct. It claims that female brains are typically hardwired for empathy, while male brains are built to analyse systems, such as computers and cars. This all hinges on the idea that autism represents an extreme form of the male brain, caused by exposure to higher than usual testosterone levels in the womb. Yet recent experiments have repeatedly failed to find a direct link between foetal testosterone levels alone and autism.

Indeed, psychological studies show that there are only the tiniest gaps, if any, between the sexes, including areas such as mathematical ability and verbal fluency. Navigating this complicated field for my latest book, Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong, I was told by a prominent American researcher into sex difference that he no longer refers to brains as sexually dimorphic, because the science simply doesn’t support this. There isn’t a neuroscientist alive who can say with confidence which sex any given brain belongs to.

In short the science in the memo is “flawed,” but the memo is getting lots of support anyway.

What they fail to understand is that there are published scientific papers out there to support every possible opinion, even that black people are intellectually inferior to white people. Getting published doesn’t make an idea true, it only means that someone has managed to get it into print. In evolutionary psychology, theories are sometimes little more than speculation strung together with scant evidence.

There was a time, she points out, when eugenics was considered good science.

Weak scientific evidence and empty theories are still being used to support troubling ideologies. Women are making enormous strides in science and engineering – yet, with some half-cocked hypotheses in their back pockets, male software engineers feel they have the right to tell them they are somehow biologically unsuited to this kind of work.

They forget, perhaps, that many of the world’s original computer programmers were women, including the first: Ada Lovelace. Women began to be marginalised in technology around the time that personal computing took off and become a lucrative industry. Male software engineers forget that discrimination and sexual harassment have driven women out of Silicon Valley, and kept countless more out in the first place.

The myriad historical, cultural and social factors that create inequality are all too easily glossed over when someone reaches for the closest, most convenient biological explanation for what they see. This isn’t just intellectual laziness; this is prejudice masquerading as fact.

It’s also men being assholes.

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