Saturday, March 08, 2008

Pinkers – like brother like sister in quasi-junk science

It appears Susan Pinker is just as much a died-in-the-wool “naturist” on evolutionary psychology issues as is her better-known brother, Steven.

Specifically, in a new book, it’s the difference between boys and girls at school, followed by men and women at work, that gets her research psychologist’s explanation of being all about hormonal-generated differences in male and female brains.

The facts of difference are unarguable today. In school, boys are truant more, cause more disciplinary problems, perform lower on standardized tests, etc. But, they’re still the leaders in the business world. And, glass ceilings aside, women in the business world generally indicate higher degrees of job satisfaction, Emily Bazelon notes.

Pinker rejects the idea that much of this is due to the “glass ceiling” effect in the business world. She does admit there is some sexual bias, but says its effect is minuscule:
To support this, Pinker quotes a female Ivy League law professor: “I am very skeptical of the notion that society discourages talented women from becoming scientists,” the professor writes. “My experience, at least from the educational phase of my life, is that the very opposite is true.” If women aren’t racing to the upper echelons of science, government and the corporate world despite decades of efforts to woo them, Pinker argues, then it must be because they are wired to resist the demands at the top of those fields.

Now, Clarence Thomas would claim that society doesn’t hold black men down, either, and would cite his own academic experience, without talking 5 seconds about how much he benefited from affirmative action. So, without knowing who this professor is and how she got to where she is, I can’t even begin to dissect her statement.

Beyond that, Bazelon does her own takedown on Pinker and that pesky “glass ceiling”:
Pinker also skips past an answer to the book’s central question that may have more explanatory power than her other arguments, even if it’s more prosaic and familiar to many a parent. Boys lag dramatically behind girls in terms of psychological development and physical resilience and then start to catch up as teenagers, as a long-running and well-known study Pinker cites documented. Maybe after a few years as girls’ developmental equals, boys are ready to compete in the work force — and then zoom ahead as cultural norms and discrimination push women back. After all, why would girls’ hard-wired predilection against competition stay on ice while they blithely sweep all the academic honors and then kick in only at work?

I don’t reject sexual dimorphism in the human brain, at all. But, as Matt Ridley put it in his excellent book by that title, I affirm the reality of “nature via nurture” and it is obvious neither Pinker sibling does.

Fortunately, the pendulum of scientific study, even in molecular biology and genetics, as we learn more about how much “junk DNA” is actually regulatory sequences which control the expression of codons, regulatory sequences affected by cellular environment.

Let me take this opportunity to remind readers of the difference between evolutionary psychology and Evolutionary Psychology, too.

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