Today’s article by Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Barnett about the use of phony science to reinforce damaging sterotypes ends with the reason it’s important and can’t be allowed to fall aside.
What we can hope is that eventually, good science drives out bad, and that facts, by their sheer heft, ultimately crush the factoids. But we have to pay attention to make sure this happens. Otherwise, we will end up trusting our kids' futures to ideas and programs that - ironically - rely on science to shore up some of society's most unscientific prejudices.
It won’t come as a surprise to readers of this blog but the “science” so cited is just about uniformly either really bad science or somewhat better science very badly reported. The article is a short catalog of some of the more influential pop-pseudoscience resources used by those in politics and the media to reinforce gender role stereotypes. For example:
Looking for explanations for the apparent boy-girl divide in math and science performance, some experts and numerous newspaper and magazine articles have seized on the idea that boys are biologically programmed to focus on objects, predisposing them to math and understanding systems, while girls are programmed to focus on people. This idea was based on a study of day-old babies done by British psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen in 2003. Baron-Cohen surveyed 100 babies and found that the boys looked at mobiles longer and the girls looked at faces longer.
His study, however, has since been attacked as unreliable by Elizabeth Spelke, a Harvard psychology professor. In an article in American Psychologist, she pointed out that the experiment lacked critical controls against experimenter bias. Female and male infants were propped up in a parent's lap and shown, side by side, an active person or an inanimate object. Since newborns can't hold their heads up independently, their visual preferences could easily have been determined by the way their parents held them.
Having done quite a bit of online research looking into these things, unless you specifically know what search words to use, the junk science, lousy reporting on real science, and echoes of the same is what comes up first. Chances are that most working in the mass media media ever get to the pages of search results that either report the real studies or the critiques of those. Sometimes you don’t find those until you are well into the teens. I’ve also noticed that the critiques that refute the pseudo-science or the bad reporting are rather technical whereas the junk is easy to digest. Maybe what is needed is refutation simple and easy enough for the typical journalistic hack to comprehend and which is then google-bombed into the first page of the search. Internet searches seem to have replaced the techniques of genuine reporting.
The article is also important because it reminds us that stuff like this is having a real impact on peoples’ lives, especially children’s lives. Every reactionary cause eventually seems to find funding from some reactionary source and sets itself up as a lobby in Washington or in Statehouses.
The lack of hard findings on the real-world difference between boys' and girls' brains hasn't slowed down the impulse to change education.
South Carolina, for instance, aims to have sex-segregated classrooms available in public schools for all children in five years, and gender difference theories are starting to drive curriculum. Teachers are allowing girls to evaluate cosmetics for science projects and assigning action novels for boys to read.
Gurian has exploited his ideas with great success as an educational consultant, claiming to have trained 30,000 teachers in 1,500 schools. Sax runs a lobbying group for more single-sex public schools. When we gave a speech at a national teachers meeting, one private-school teacher in the audience stood up to say that his headmaster was revamping the entire curriculum based on Sax's theories of gender difference.
The backlash against educational equality seems to now be professionalized and institutionalized. It’s particularly hard to fight against those defending their lunch ticket. Getting entrenched nonsense out of education is particularly difficult. We’d better redouble the efforts.
The information that John Gray, from Mars got his PhD from a diploma mill needs to be more widely known. You still hear even relatively sophisticated people mentioning that piece of trash. Sometimes it's information like that which will make the difference whereas citing the numbers will fail.