Viewpoint: We can’t ignore scientific evidence about male, female brain differences

3-9-2019 img
Image credit: Odyssey
This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

It’s obvious to just about anyone who is paying attention — and to most biologists, in particular — that there are some very important differences between men and women that go far beyond the concentrations of their hormones and the shapes of their genitals.

Consider some of the subtler differences. Men, for example, have higher hematocrit (i.e., red blood cell concentration) than women, which means that for any given volume of blood, men carry more oxygen than women. Men also have more skeletal muscle mass, accounting for roughly 42% of body weight compared to only 36% for women. Reasons like these are why male athletes are stronger and faster than female athletes.

There are also neurological differences between men and women. Just how many differences are there? Well, there are so many, that an entire issue of the Journal of Neuroscience Research was dedicated to analyzing them.

In an accompanying commentary, neurobiologist Dr. Larry Cahill explained that, due to political correctness, the topic of neurological sex differences was so taboo that a scientist risked ruining his career if he openly discussed them. Of course, this does a grievous disservice to both men and women, particularly when it comes to mental health.

It is well established in psychiatry that men and women suffer different rates of mental illness. Women are more likely to be depressed or anxious, while men are more likely to be addicted to and abuse drugs. Migraines are more common among women. Though the prevalence of schizophrenia is roughly the same for men and women, there is a notable sex difference in the age of onset of symptoms.

The bottom line is that there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that the brains of men and women differ, sometimes substantially. But a new book, which is making waves in the media, denies this.

Related article:  Infographic: How exercise gives your brain a boost

Brain Wars: Return of the Sex Deniers

Dr. Gina Rippon, a professor of cognitive neuroimaging, argues in an article for NewScientist (and in a new book called Gendered Brain) that our understanding of neurological sex differences is all wrong. The more likely explanation is that Dr. Rippon’s understanding of neurobiology is all wrong… or at least tainted by motivated reasoning.

Much of her article points out all the times that neuroscientists thought they identified a real sex difference in male and female brains only to be disproven later. But this is not a convincing argument. Indeed, it’s the same sort of argument that creationists use against evolution: “Biologists got a few things wrong before, therefore the entire theory is wrong!” No, that’s not how science works.

Dr. Rippon also takes offense at the historical and sexist notion that men’s brains are somehow superior to women’s brains. Of course, she is right to be offended; that’s nonsense. However, differences do not imply superiority or inferiority. Yet, she uses this historical sexism as evidence for the wrongness of modern neuroscience, but that point is utterly non-germane to the issue at hand.

Her objections ultimately seem to be rooted in fear of inequality. If we tell men and women that their brains are different, then they will behave accordingly, exacerbating any (real or imagined) sex-based societal injustices. That might be a legitimate concern, but it’s certainly not grounds to throw out data she doesn’t like. That’s the real injustice here.

Alex Berezow is vice president of scientific affairs for the the American Council on Science and Health. Follow him on Twitter @AlexBerezow

This article originally appeared on the American Council on Science and Health website as Brain Wars: Return Of The Sex Deniers and has been republished here with permission.

Outbreak
Outbreak Daily Digest
Biotech Facts & Fallacies
Talking Biotech
Genetics Unzipped
a a b b a f ac a

Video: Death by COVID: The projected grim toll in historical context

The latest statistics, as of July 10, show COVID-19-related deaths in U.S. are just under 1,000 per day nationally, which is ...
mag insects image superjumbo v

Disaster interrupted: Which farming system better preserves insect populations: Organic or conventional?

A three-year run of fragmentary Armageddon-like studies had primed the journalism pumps and settled the media framing about the future ...
dead bee desolate city

Are we facing an ‘Insect Apocalypse’ caused by ‘intensive, industrial’ farming and agricultural chemicals? The media say yes; Science says ‘no’

The media call it the “Insect Apocalypse”. In the past three years, the phrase has become an accepted truth of ...
types of oak trees

Infographic: Power of evolution? How oak trees came to dominate North American forests

Over the course of some 56 million years, oaks, which all belong to the genus Quercus, evolved from a single undifferentiated ...
biotechnology worker x

Can GMOs rescue threatened plants and crops?

Some scientists and ecologists argue that humans are in the midst of an "extinction crisis" — the sixth wave of ...
food globe x

Are GMOs necessary to feed the world?

Experts estimate that agricultural production needs to roughly double in the coming decades. How can that be achieved? ...
eating gmo corn on the cob x

Are GMOs safe?

In 2015, 15 scientists and activists issued a statement, "No Scientific consensus on GMO safety," in the journal Environmental Sciences ...
Screen Shot at PM

Charles Benbrook: Agricultural economist and consultant for the organic industry and anti-biotechnology advocacy groups

Independent scientists rip Benbrook's co-authored commentary in New England Journal calling for reassessment of dangers of all GMO crops and herbicides ...
Screen Shot at PM

ETC Group: ‘Extreme’ biotechnology critic campaigns against synthetic biology and other forms of ‘extreme genetic engineering’

The ETC Group is an international environmental non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Canada whose stated purpose is to monitor "the impact of emerging technologies and ...
Share via
News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
Optional. Mail on special occasions.
Send this to a friend