Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Simon Baron-Cohen

has written an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times. Baron-Cohen is one of those borderline weirdos in science, the ones who use various evolutionary psychology theories to explain why men are on top and why women are subjugated. I even bought his book The Essential Difference: The Truth About the Male and Female Brain.

It is a very bad book, by the way. I have a wonderfully scathing review of it on the Amazon if they haven't taken it off yet, but sadly I can't access my notes from where I am now. But in any case the book is pure crap. It has two long chapters about Mr. Baron-Cohen's fairy tales on the prehistoric era when women were housewives and men read maps to find out where the dinosaurs were hiding. Or something not much different from that one.

Baron-Cohen's main idea is that there is an extreme male brain, all about logic and systematizing, and an extreme female brain, all about emotions. He believes that autistic children have the extreme male brain, and he is sure that we will one day find the extreme female brain, and when we do, we will also find that it is favored over the extreme male brain. So you see what Mr. Baron-Cohen aims at and how unbiased his research is.

He gets into a bit of a muddle because men refuse to have the male brain enough and women refuse to have the female brain enough, so he has to rig things a little to improve the outcomes. This is evident from the appendix to the book which contains a test you, the reader, can take, to determine how innately systematizing and male your brain is or how innately emphatizing and female it might be. Now, I scored very male on this test, because I knew what the researcher was aiming at.

To give you an idea of how the results can be rigged, consider these questions included in the test bank:
Do you know how to fix electrical problems in your house?
When you see a piece of furniture, are you interested in how it is made?
Do you like collecting rare coins or stamps?

All of these questions are intended to measure innate maleness! Too bad that the first question has an answer which changed for me a few years ago when I learned how to fix electricity. I guess I grew more male. Too bad that the second question might have quite a different answer if it was about a dress and the details of its construction, and too bad that collecting Barbie dolls or teapots was not used for the third question. In sum, all these questions are rigged to go with the societal gender expectations, and many other questions had similar problems.

Mr. Baron-Cohen is not interesting, and his science is poorly done. That he gets so much exposure for something so weak is somewhat interesting, or would be if I didn't already know the exact reason for the publicity.