The article Science Magazine doesn't want you to readPETER A. LAWRENCE
An academic controversy recently erupted over the decision of Science Magazine editors to refuse publication of an article about gender difference by British biologist Peter Lawrence. Though the prestigious journal had given Dr. Lawrence a publication date and article proofs, Science editor-in-chief Donald Kennedy abruptly notified the author that the piece could not be published because it did not offer "a strategy on how to deal with the gender issue." The article, in edited form, is reproduced below.
It is not easy to write about this subject. The Cambridge University psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen published research on the "male brain" in a specialist journal in 1997, but did not dare to talk about his ideas in public for several years.
Baron-Cohen makes one point clear: You cannot deduce the psychological characteristics of any person by knowing their sex. Arguing from the scientific literature that men and women typically have different types of brains, he nevertheless points out that "some women have the male brain, and some men have the female brain." Stereotyping is unscientific "individuals are just that: individuals."
Yet Baron-Cohen presents evidence that males on average are biologically predisposed to systemize, to analyze, and to be more forgetful of others, while females on average are innately designed to empathize, to communicate, and to care for others.
Autism spectrum conditions provide another example. People with these problems communicate poorly; they are unable to put themselves in another's place, and have difficulties with empathizing. They may treat others as objects. They often become obsessed and show repetitive behaviour. The less severely affected can become experts on recondite subjects, such as train timetables or ocean temperatures. Most relevant for our arguments is that autism spectrum conditions are largely sex-limited, being between four and nine times more frequent in males. From many studies, including psychology and neuroanatomy, Baron-Cohen argues convincingly that autism spectrum conditions are an extreme form of maleness.
It will not have escaped the notice of many scientists that some of their colleagues and maybe themselves have more than a hint of these "autistic" features. There is good evidence that this type of single-mindedness is particularly common in males. Indeed, we might acknowledge that a limited amount of autistic behaviour can be useful to researchers and to society. For example, a lifetime's academic concentration on a family of beetles with more than 100,000 species may seem weird, but we need several such people in the world for each family. And most of these specialists will be men.
It follows that if we search objectively for an obsessive knowledge, for a mastery of abstruse facts, or for mechanical understanding, we will select many more men than women. And if males on average are constitutionally better suited to be this kind of scientist, it seems silly to aim at strict gender parity.
However, in professions that rely on an ability to put oneself in another's place, at which women on average are far superior, we should expect and want a majority of women. For example, among current student members of the British Psychological Society, there are 5,806 women to 945 men; and among graduate psychologists, 23,324 women to 8,592 men.
Many who have turned their attention to explaining the fall out of women from the hard sciences have ascribed the phenomenon to a mixture of discrimination and choice. Regarding overt discrimination, in a lifetime in science, I have seen only little, and it has been both for and against women. Surely, gender discrimination cannot explain more than a tiny part of this trend.
But there is a different kind of discrimination that particularly damages creative pursuits such as science. There is good psychological evidence that aggression and lack of empathy are on average male characteristics, and we may agree with Baron-Cohen that for both sexes, "nastiness … gets you higher socially, and gets you more control or power." In this struggle, men climb higher because they are on average more ruthless, and many women, as well as a gentle minority of men, shy away from competing with them.
Peter A. Lawrence "The article Science Magazine doesn't want you to read." National Post (February 16, 2006).
Edited version of the original article reprinted with permission from the National Post. The original article is referenced below.
Peter A. Lawrence, "Men, Women, and Ghosts in Science," Public Library of Science (January 17, 2006).
Republished courtesy of the Public Library of Science Biology. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. The original article may be viewed here.
Peter A. Lawrence is at Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, United Kingdom. He is the author of The Making of a Fly: The Genetics of Animal Design.
Copyright © 2006 Peter
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