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Interesting article in the LA Times about TAs and Gender Feminists rejecting scientific results

(26 Posts)
CuppaTeaAndAJammieDodger Tue 14-Feb-17 15:54:46

It discusses the differences specifically regarding male and female brains, particularly interesting with regards to the transitioning of children.

TheCountessofFitzdotterel Tue 14-Feb-17 16:18:44

Seems to me to be misrepresenting both sides? And where did she get the term 'gender feminist' from?

M0stlyBowlingHedgehog Tue 14-Feb-17 16:23:31

The "blank slate" thing seems a bit of a caricature. What other neuroscientists have argued (e.g. Lise Eliot in Pink Brain, Blue Brain) is that early brain development - 0 to 5 years - is so plastic, and gendered environmental pressures so ubiquitous, that it's pretty much impossible to come up with an experiment which would give you a clean test of nature vs. nurture.

I do think the "so what if men's and women's brains did turn out to be slightly different - it still begs the question as to why we devalue proficencies seen as 'feminine'" was well-made.

I'd be fascinated to see Debra Soh and Lise Eliot debate with each other!

CuppaTeaAndAJammieDodger Tue 14-Feb-17 16:35:59

It would be good to be a fly on the wall M0stly.

Prawnofthepatriarchy Tue 14-Feb-17 16:43:44

That's a bloody ridiculous article. At least the first half was, I gave up there. Wtf are gender feminists and where does evolution come in?

The author needs to do a lot more reading. As it stands the most striking bit of the article is how little they know about the subject.

CuppaTeaAndAJammieDodger Tue 14-Feb-17 16:46:02

You think a sexual neuroscientist doesn't know much about the subject Prawn?

CuppaTeaAndAJammieDodger Tue 14-Feb-17 16:46:55

Or is it that you disagree and therefore they clearly know nothing?

M0stlyBowlingHedgehog Tue 14-Feb-17 16:54:57

Ah, you didn't get as far as the "by-line", Prawn - this is what it says about her: "Debra W. Soh is a sex writer and sexual neuroscientist at York University in Toronto." I'm not quite sure what a sexual neuroscientist is. From her linkedin profile it looks like she has completed a PhD - which isn't really quite the same thing as being a researcher - it means you've made the first steps to becoming one. She seems to have abandoned science for talking about science (not in itself a bad thing - we need decent communicators - but it is telling that her lengthy list of "publications" doesn't include any in peer reviewed journals, and I see precious little evidence she has any specialist knowledge in infant and child brain development).

Her research interest seems to involve doing MRI scans of people's brains while they read erotic fanfiction about furries (Anime characters which are part human, part animal). So headed more for an Ig than an Nobel, I'd say.

ChocChocPorridge Tue 14-Feb-17 17:02:17

Not sure she actually completed the PhD... which is.. odd..

M0stlyBowlingHedgehog Tue 14-Feb-17 17:05:27

Cup - "Or is it that you disagree and therefore they clearly know nothing?"

I'm coming round to the idea that if you left out the word "therefore" you wouldn't be far wrong. grin

PencilsInSpace Tue 14-Feb-17 17:07:30

Rather a lot of those 'publications' are in P layboy hmm

M0stlyBowlingHedgehog Tue 14-Feb-17 17:22:39

I'd noticed that, Pencils. BTW, as a slight digression, have you noticed that esteemed publication is returning to its roots and re-introducing women with no clothes on as its major selling point? It appears that the harsh, cold glare of market economics has given the lie to the old saw about "I only read it for the articles".

Prawnofthepatriarchy Tue 14-Feb-17 17:26:16

When I said the author didn't know enough about the subject I was referring to feminism. She's discussing a conflict without understanding the two perspectives. I'm not criticising her understanding of the references she,cites but of the politics. An uncompleted PhD doesn't make you a neuroscientist, at least not in my book.

SomeDyke Tue 14-Feb-17 17:35:15

Quick Google Scholar search turns up at least one journal reference:

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 04 March 2015

"Self-regulation therapy increases frontal gray matter in children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder: evaluation by voxel-based morphometry"

with Debra W Soh as first author. VBM is measuring STUFF from magnetic resonance images of the brain. Apparently "DWS analyzed and interpreted the data and wrote and revised the manuscript."

Also articles on:
"Diffusion Tensor Imaging of Pedophilia"
"A Peek Inside a Furry Convention"
(took me a couple of goes to figure out what the last one meant, MY her expenses forms are going to be interesting! To attend that one, could you charge some sort of costume to expenses.................necessary research materials????)

She is listed on ResearchGate (5 articles, 1 conference paper) as "Sex science journalist & PhD Candidate, Neuroscience, specialization in Sexology and paraphilias 12.31".
So she'll know a bit about the brain-based stuff, but she is still only a PhD candidate, albeit one with a few journal papers, who seems to have considered that a career in sex science journalism might be an opening.

I'm not saying I agree with her interpretation of the science, but she is at least, at the start of her career, prepared to stick her neck out and say that some people have got the science very wrong for various political reasons (even if no one I know recognises her characterisation of 'gender feminists'). At least SOMEONE who has actually used VBM and diffusion tensor imaging is prepared to argue about it on the wider stage. Important since many of the papers from that area which supposedly support trans 'brain sex' arguments are either very weak, or have been totally misinterpreted by people who don't have a clue about the science or the statistics. She may know a bit more (provided she gets through her PhD!). Actually, although a slightly risky move it might get her read, a sex science journalist who knows some of the science who doesn't toe the trans line! I assume that analysing brain images of paedophiles is quite a contentious research area, so hopefully she is a bit robust.

Prawnofthepatriarchy Tue 14-Feb-17 17:41:27

Maybe I should read it and grit my teeth at her cluelessness about feminism. But I can't bring myself to struggle through that dense copy. Whatever else she may be, she's not a writer.

SomeDyke Tue 14-Feb-17 17:43:14

Ah, she has also written an interesting, possibly not totally trans-the-kids article for the Wall Street Journal (2016):

(Behind a firewall, you can only see the first few lines, and does refer to 'under pressure from gender identity.........'. SO does seem like she has it in for the TRAs.

I do think she needs to read up on her feminism though, but if she mistakenly started with some of the current websites, no wonder she is a bit confused.........................

BarrackerBarma Tue 14-Feb-17 18:11:16

She's a "sexologist" who writes for playboy. I think her self description of "neuroscientist" plays a bit fast and loose with the term.
She claims 'facts' that are widely disputed by reputable neuroscientists and you don't need to have any qualification other than an ability to think critically to deduce that she has reached conclusions that simply do not follow from her observations.

She states that all adults have a fixed gender identity which is patently *bullshit and reveals that she's unworthy of decent consideration.

You know what this article just made me think of? Those anti-choicers who denounce all abortions as murder BUT 'allow' exceptions for rape and incest. You can instantly see the logical fallacy. If they truly believed it was murder there would be no exceptions. Their position is really motivated by a desire to control women, and the exceptions are plainly borne out of a need to excuse 'innocent' women and to not be seen as too monstrous.

Same with this sexologist
- I observe some brain differences between the sexes
- I decide these are innate (false assumption)
- I conclude they correlate with cognitive abilities (no)
- I conclude gender identity is fixed (false concept)

BUT I feel a bit wobbly about the kids, I don't really want children to be transed on my watch so here is a get-out-of-jail card that absolves me of responsibility for that.

BarrackerBarma Tue 14-Feb-17 18:12:10

*bullshit: neuroscientific terminology

M0stlyBowlingHedgehog Tue 14-Feb-17 18:12:21

I think the thing that set warning bells going for me was this: it's a contentious area of science. She mentions one Nature paper, and one rebuttal to another published paper. In a serious discussion of a contentious area of science, I'd expect to see some reference to at least one if not several meta studies - something along the lines of "x number of studies found a statistically significant difference between men's and women's brains, in a range of areas from.. to ...; y number of studies didn't find such a difference..." When I see a very small number of papers, I think "cherry picking..."

DeviTheGaelet Tue 14-Feb-17 20:10:17

I'm going against the grain here and I've had wine but I liked the article.
She paints the extremes of both sides. My issue with "brain sex" is that it's a slippery slope to "women are adapted to wifework". I've also seen TAS violently disagree with desistance rates because it makes it seem as though they are "choosing" something that they aren't. I thought she did a good job of showing there are two polarised camps and that things maybe aren't as black and white as either side makes out.

BarrackerBarma Tue 14-Feb-17 21:29:22

"From a scientific perspective, they’re partially right: Gender identity is fixed, but only in adults; the same can’t be said for children, whose gender identity is flexible and doesn’t become stable until puberty."

I can't take her seriously.
I can't even hazard a guess at what she thinks a scientific definition of "gender identity" might be, nor evidence that it is 'stable' in adults.

That's not science.

Datun Wed 15-Feb-17 08:28:23

On the plus side, I suppose if there was some kind of neurological test for gender dysphoria, it would instantly eliminate the 90% who are chancers, fakers and fetishists.

And it would certainly question things like five girls in one class coming out as trans simultaneously.

And although testing, in real life, might be questionable, it might well be something that people would do in the case of children/teens. It would make medical intervention more ethical if it was provided/denied on that basis. Instead of just their say-so.

Alyosha Wed 15-Feb-17 12:18:26

WRT brain plasticity - of course it would be unethical to run an experiment on 0-5 year olds that could settle nature vs. nurture.

But our brains aren't really that plastic - we all learn to speak, walk, none of us suddenly act like cats. Most of us acquire language, gross & small motor skills at around the same times.

There is a recognisable subset of human behaviour that we conform to.

Then there is the fact that men and women are physically different due to their differing hormones, which kick in at two stages. This is why we rightly are concerned about Trans people competing in sport with women, as they have an unfair physical advantage that remains even after hormones.

So I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that our brains will be different too, even if that difference is very subtle.

Personally I think Trans is a load of bollocks because almost all transitioners have been through both waves of masculinisation, and therefore by definition have "male brains" and male bodies.

M0stlyBowlingHedgehog Wed 15-Feb-17 12:40:47

Alyosha - I did say upthread that the blank slate idea was a caricature (and a bad one). Of course brains come with a lot of structure (but it's amazing how much of that develops post birth - and pruning of neurons is as important a process as growth of neurons - to this end, I'd thoroughly recommend both Lise Eliot's What's going on in there? and Stephen Pinker's ^The Language Instinct^).

But the key word you use is subtle. So I'm going to put this picture up (yet again - I know it's a hobby horse of mine, but people need to get their heads round statistics in this debate).

The d value of a pair of distributions compares the difference in means between the two populations with the spreads within each individual population. For height (an obviously sexually dimorphic characteristic in humans) the d-value is about 1.5 (as far as I remember). Lise Eliot explains in Pink Brain, Blue Brain that for the sex-related cognitive differences that have some sort of robust backing, the d values are small - less than 0.5.

One way of thinking about it - if all the information I'm given is that person X is 6' tall, it's worth punting a fiver on him being male. If all I'm told about child Y is that the age at which their vocabulary reached 20 words was 18 months I'd be an idiot to punt a fiver on that child being male (or female). Because the d-value is too small, and the odds are pretty much indistinguishable from evens. And when you look at the overlap between distributions, you can see that the nature/nurture/brain plasticity one becomes an immensely hard one to answer. We're not looking at the difference between a cat brain (completely lacking the brain structures necessary to support language in any sense) and a human brain (all have broadly the same structures). We're looking at the difference between having an average vocabulary of 20 words at 18 months, or 22 words at 18 months. And environmental features like "how much do the primary carers in this child's life talk to it?" are going to have massive influences on this.

Alyosha Wed 15-Feb-17 13:43:50

Hedghog - YY the subtlety part in the main - I don't think it has a huge effect on most things (like language, maths - it obviously can't - men and women can do all the same jobs that don't involve physical strength to the same level).

But I do still think there are some much larger differences between men & women when it comes to other things - men are:

More violent
More sexually possessive
Less likely to be the primary carer for children, across every single human culture
More likely to take risks

And it seems likely to me that given these are common across every single culture there is likely to be a connection with the brain - as we know, even Transwomen who have female range hormones retain their male criminality.

You know a lot more than I do about the exact science, though, so happy to be proven wrong!

I've already read Stephen Pinker so will try Pink Brain, Blue brain & Lise Eliot too.

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