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Denying the Neuroscience of Sex Differences

A review of The Gendered Brain: The new neuroscience that shatters the myth of the female brain, by Gina Rippon. The Bodley Head Ltd (March 2019).   

Imagine your response to picking up a copy of the leading scientific journal Nature and reading the headline: “The myth that evolution applies to humans.” Anyone even vaguely familiar with the advances in neuroscience over the past 15–20 years regarding sex influences on brain function might have a similar response to a recent headline in Nature: “Neurosexism: the myth that men and women have different brains” subtitled “the hunt for male and female distinctions inside the skull is a lesson in bad research practice.”  

Turns out that yet another book, this one with a fawning review in Nature, claims to “shatter” myths about sex differences in the brain while in fact perpetuating the largest one. Editors at Nature decided to give this book their imprimatur. Ironically, within a couple of days of the Nature review being published came a news alert from the American Association for the Advancement of Science titled, “Researchers discover clues to brain differences between males and females,” and a new editorial in Lancet Neurology titled “A spotlight on sex differences in neurological disorders,” both of which contradict the book’s core thesis. So what in the name of good science is going on here?

*  *  *

For decades neuroscience, like most research areas, overwhelmingly studied only males, assuming that everything fundamental to know about females would be learned by studying males. I know — I did this myself early in my career. Most neuroscientists assumed that differences between males and females, if they exist at all, are not fundamental, that is, not essential for understanding brain structure or function. Instead, we assumed that sex differences result from undulating sex hormones (typically viewed as a sort of pesky feature of the female), and/or from different life experiences (“culture”). In either case, they were dismissable in our search for the fundamental. In truth, it was always a strange assumption, but so it was.

Gradually however, and inexorably, we neuroscientists are seeing just how profoundly wrong — and in fact disproportionately harmful to women — that assumption was, especially in the context of understanding and treating brain disorders. Any reader wishing to confirm what I am writing can easily start by perusing online the January/February 2017 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience Research, the first ever of any neuroscience journal devoted to the topic of sex differences in its entirety. All 70 papers, spanning the neuroscience spectrum, are open access to the public.

In statistical terms, something called effect size measures the size of the influence of one variable on another. Although some believe that sex differences in the brain are small, in fact, the average effect size found in sex differences research is no different from the average effect size found in any other large domain of neuroscience. So here is a fact: It is now abundantly clear to anyone honestly looking, that the variable of biological sex influences all levels of mammalian brain function, down to the cellular/genetic substrate, which of course includes the human mammalian brain.

The mammalian brain is clearly a highly sex-influenced organ. Both its function and dysfunction must therefore be sex influenced to an important degree. How exactly all of these myriad sex influences play out is often hard, or even impossible to pinpoint at present (as it is for almost every issue in neuroscience). But that they must play out in many ways, both large and small, having all manner of implications for women and men that we need to responsibly understand, is now beyond debate — at least among non-ideologues.

Recognizing our obligation to carefully study sex influences in essentially all domains (not just neuroscience), the National Institute of Health on January 25, 2016 adopted a policy (called “Sex as a Biological Variable,” or SABV for short) requiring all of its grantees to seriously incorporate the understanding of females into their research. This was a landmark moment, a conceptual corner turned that cannot be unturned.

But the remarkable and unprecedented growth in research demonstrating biologically-based sex influences on brain function triggered 5-alarm fire bells in those who believe that such biological influences cannot exist.

Since Simone de Beauvoir in the early 1950s famously asserted that “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” and John Money at Johns Hopkins shortly thereafter introduced the term “gender” (borrowed from linguistics) to avoid the biological implications of the word “sex,” a belief that no meaningful differences exist in the brains of women and men has dominated U.S. culture. And God help you if you suggest otherwise! Gloria Steinem once called sex differences research “anti-American crazy thinking.” Senior colleagues warned me as an untenured professor around the year 2000 that studying sex differences would be career suicide. This new book by Rippon marks the latest salvo by a very small but vocal group of anti-sex difference individuals determined to perpetuate this cultural myth.

A book like this is very difficult for someone knowledgeable about the field to review seriously. It is so chock-full of bias that one keeps wondering why one is bothering with it. Suffice to say it is replete with tactics that are now standard operating procedure for the anti-sex difference writers. The most important tactic is a comically biased, utterly non-representative view of the enormous literature of studies ranging from humans to single neurons. Other tactics include magnifying or inventing problems with disfavored studies, ignoring even fatal problems with favored studies, dismissing what powerful animal research reveals about mammalian brains, hiding uncomfortable facts in footnotes, pretending not to be denying biologically based sex-influences on the brain while doing everything possible to deny them, pretending to be in favor of understanding sex differences in medical contexts yet never offering a single specific research example why the issue is important for medicine, treating “brain plasticity” as a magic talisman with no limitations that can explain away sex differences, presenting a distorted view of the “stereotype” literature and what it really suggests, and resurrecting 19th century arguments almost no modern neuroscientist knows of, or cares about. Finally, use a catchy name to slander those who dare to be good scientists and investigate potential sex influences in their research despite the profound biases against the topic (“neurosexists!”). These tactics work quite well with those who know little or nothing about the neuroscience. Here are some lowlights:

Rippon praises a truly awful study that received extraordinary press attention (something she claims to dislike about studies of sex differences). In an analysis of structural brain scans of women and men led by Daphna Joel and published in 2015 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a large number of differences were found on average between the sexes. But Joel’s team then claimed that, using a novel analysis, individual women and men possessed a rather random collection of the male-average and female-average traits. They correctly argued that we all possess a “mosaic” of female and male traits (which neuroscience already knew since the 1970s), but crucially, that the two sexes are actually unisex, that is, largely indistinguishable on average in the nature of these masculine/feminine mosaics.

This conclusion confused me, since there is nothing in our understanding of sex influences on the brain that predicts it. But, I gave them the benefit of the doubt and sat down to carefully read the study. I started to laugh in the methods section. The authors constructed their key measure (called “internal consistency”) to make it essentially impossible for them to not get the results they got. Or put another way, the study was basically rigged (although not necessarily consciously so), as subsequently shown by three other groups also published in PNAS. Marco Del Giudice and his colleagues at the University of New Mexico, for example, re-analyzed the same data used by Joel’s team, using a non-rigged methodology, and got the opposite results — individual women and men could be discriminated about 69–77 percent of the time by the same brain variables. Even higher levels of discriminability between the sexes have been reported by other teams regarding human brain structure and function, and regarding personality.

Rippon also utterly misrepresents a landmark study of human brain connectivity by Madhura Ingalhalikar, Raquel and Ruben Gur and colleagues, conducted at the University of Pennsylvania and published in PNAS in 2014. This impressive study reported sex differences in brain connectivity using standard, very defensible methods, and in fact a key finding (regarding the corpus callosum) confirmed earlier work by others. An illustration of a key result that Rippon criticizes is perfectly appropriate (and in fact would not be disputed in any other context), and is clearly labeled. This team offered a plausible speculation about what their anatomical findings might mean behaviorally, then as excellent scientists published another large, follow-up study directly relating the anatomical sex differences to behavior, a study not mentioned by Rippon. Instead, Rippon tells you about ridiculous comments people made in blogs about the first study. Finally, Rippon describes a study from a group in Zurich that ostensibly disconfirmed the original Ingahalikar et al report, yet did no such thing. In fact, the Zurich group confirmed the key sex difference of Ingahalikar et al (albeit with a smaller sample size), then suggested a plausible reason why the sex difference in brain connectivity that they confirmed existed, namely, the difference in overall brain size between the sexes.

The book is downright farcical when it comes to modern animal research, simply ignoring the vast majority of it. The enormous power of animal research, of course, is that it can establish sex influences in particular on mammalian brain function (such as sex differences in risk-taking, play behavior, and responses to social defeat as just three examples) that cannot be explained by human culture, (although they may well be influenced in humans by culture.) Rippon engages in what is effectively a denial of evolution, implying to her reader that we should ignore the profound implications of animal research (“Not those bloody monkeys again!”) when trying to understand sex influences on the human brain. She is right only if you believe evolution in humans stopped at the neck.

Rippon tries to convince you (and may even believe herself) that it is impossible to disentangle biology from culture when investigating sex differences in humans. This is false. I encourage the interested reader to see the discussion of the excellent work doing exactly this by a sociologist named J. Richard Udry in an article I wrote in 2014 for the Dana Foundation’s “Cerebrum,” free online.

Rippon does not mention Udry’s work, or its essential replication by Udry’s harshest critic, a leading sociologist who has described herself as a “feminist” who now “wrestles” with testosterone. (The Dana paper “Equal ≠ Same” also deconstructs the specious “brain plasticity” argument on which Rippon’s narrative heavily rests.)

Of course, Rippon is completely correct in arguing that neuroscientists (and the general public) should remember that “nature” interacts with “nurture,” and should not run wild with implications of sex difference findings for brain function and behavior. We must also reject the illogical conclusion that sex influences on the brain will mean that women are superior, or that men are superior. I genuinely do not know a single neuroscientist who disagrees with these arguments. But she studiously avoids an equally important truth: That neuroscientists should not deny that biologically-based sex differences exist and likely have important implications for understanding brain function and behavior, nor should they fear investigating them.

You may ask: What exactly are people like Rippon so afraid of? She cites potential misuse of the findings for sexist ends, which has surface plausibility. But by that logic we should also stop studying, for example, genetics. The potential to misuse new knowledge has been around since we discovered fire and invented the wheel. It is not a valid argument for remaining ignorant.

After almost 20 years of hearing the same invalid arguments (like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day” waking up to the same song every day), I have come to see clearly that the real problem is a deeply ingrained, implicit, very powerful yet 100 percent false assumption that if women and men are to be considered “equal,” they have to be “the same.” Conversely, the argument goes, if neuroscience shows that women and men are not the same on average, then it somehow shows that they are not equal on average. Although this assumption is false, it still creates fear of sex differences in those operating on it. Ironically, forced sameness where two groups truly differ in some respect means forced inequality in that respect, exactly as we see in medicine today.

Women are not treated equally with men in biomedicine today because overwhelmingly they are still being treated the same as men (although this is finally changing). Yet astoundingly, and despite claiming she is not anti-sex difference, Rippon says “perhaps we should just stop looking for [sex] differences altogether?” Such dumbfounding statements from a nominal expert make me truly wonder whether the Rippons of the world even realize that, by constantly denying and trivializing and even vilifying research into biologically-based sex influences on the brain they are in fact advocating for biomedical research to retain its male subject-dominated status quo so disproportionately harmful to women.

So are female and male brains the same or different? We now know that the correct answer is “yes”: They are the same or similar on average in many respects, and they are different, a little to a lot, on average in many other respects. The neuroscience behind this conclusion is now remarkably robust, and not only won’t be going away, it will only grow. And yes, we, of course, must explore sex influences responsibly, as with all science. Sadly, the anti-sex difference folks will doubtless continue their ideological attacks on the field and the scientists in it.

Thus one can at present only implore thinking individuals to be wary of ideologues on both sides of the sex difference issue — those who want to convince you that men and women are always as different as Mars and Venus (and that perhaps God wants it that way), and those who want to convince you of the demonstrably false idea that the brains of women and men are for all practical purposes the same (“unisex”), that all differences between women and men are really due to an arbitrary culture (a “gendered world”), and that you are essentially a bad person if you disagree.

No one seems to have a problem accepting that, on average, male and female bodies differ in many, many ways. Why is it surprising or unacceptable that this is true for the part of our body that we call “brain”? Marie Curie said, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” Her sage advice applies perfectly to discussions about the neuroscience of sex differences in 2019.

Larry Cahill is a professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at the University of California, Irvine and an internationally recognized leader on the topic of sex influences on brain function.


  1. Asenath Waite says

    “Neurosexism: the myth that men and women have different brains”

    I never realized that the prestigious scientific journal Nature was so virulently transphobic!

    • markbul says

      They’ve tied themselves up in knots, haven’t they? They literally can’t defend their position without violating their (other) position.

      • Asenath Waite says


        And in fact the data suggest that both positions are wrong, as there are no characteristics that can delineate individual brains as male or female since all measurable aspects of brain structure and function vary widely among individuals and there is considerable overlap between the two groups, but at the same time there are highly significant average differences in brain structure and function between populations of men and women. So an individual can’t be classified as a man or woman based on that individual’s brain, but we can say that at the population level there are important differences between the brains of men and women that are very likely to influence the psychology and average behavioral choices of these broad groups.

        • Mike says

          @Asenath Waite

          “there are no characteristics that can delineate individual brains as male or female since all measurable aspects of brain structure and function vary widely among individuals and there is considerable overlap between the two groups”

          I believe the article cites and links to multiple studies that did exactly that with high levels of success. To wit:

          “Marco Del Giudice and his colleagues at the University of New Mexico, for example, re-analyzed the same data used by Joel’s team, using a non-rigged methodology, and got the opposite results — individual women and men could be discriminated about 69–77 percent of the time by the same brain variables. Even higher levels of discriminability between the sexes have been reported by other teams regarding human brain structure and function, and regarding personality.”

          Is there something I am misunderstanding?

          • Asenath Waite says


            69-77 percent accuracy means the brains would be “misgendered” 23-31 percent of the time. This example demonstrates the overlap between individuals of different sexes I was referring to, while at the same time illustrating the general average trends in brain structure between the sexes that I mentioned.

          • S. Cheung says

            To Mike and AW,
            My interpretation was that, if given a male brain and a female brain, differences are discernible. But given the individual variation you both have alluded to, I don’t think you can look at a single fMRI scan of a random brain, and state whether that was of a male or female.

          • Hi, I'm Steve says

            I’m no expert but this is how I think it works, conceptually:

            Imagine you have a femur bone and you have to identify the sex of the individual whose bone it was. You measure it and find it is the length of the average female femur. So it’s probbaly a female femur, right? But that doesn’t guarantee it’s a female femur. It could be the femur of a small male. So you can’t say with certainty that the individual femur, or brain, under inspection is male or female. You can say, for example, that it is very likely female but could be a male outlier.

          • Asenath Waite says


            93-95 percent accuracy, so 5 to 7 percent “misgendering.” If we were to assign people gender based on brain morphology, of the 7 billion people in the world, 350-490 million would be given the wrong classification. Genitalia would probably be a somewhat more accurate indication.

          • Asenath Waite says


            Oh, also I see upon reading more carefully that in that article the authors state that if head size-related measurements are regressed from the data, the accuracy drops to only about 70%.

          • Asenath Waite says


            Also, in the words of the authors of that article:

            “We wholly agree that a strict dichotomy between male/female brains does not exist, but this does not diminish or negate the importance of considering statistical differences between the sexes…”

            Which is basically my point here.

          • deBarnik says

            @Arsenath White

            The overall sentiment of your point is fair and reasonable, that’s not what I’m debating.

            I am debating that your statement that you cannot discern a man’s brain from a female’s brain is just not true, you can do it fairly reliably as stated clearly in the article too. Your counterargument is essentially “if you can not do it with a perfect 100% score, then you can not do it” which is, and no offense meant, pretty dumb.

            Of course there are overlaps and of course there are outliers, but that doesn’t change the fact that you will be getting the guess right most of the time, which is something that you can’t just dismiss the way you seemed to do, something that makes your statement simply untrue.

        • “So an individual can’t be classified as a man or woman based on that individual’s brain”

          I think that you are ignoring the correlation relations between characteristics of brain structures. I’m not even an amateur in the discipline but I’ll suggest anyway that a discriminating function or machine induction gadget could differentiate male from female brains at almost one hundred per cent accuracy, failing only when given very unusual examples. Probably wouldn’t need many measurments.

          • Asenath Waite says

            @Michael Stewart

            I think 95 or so percent is the best they can get, as per deBarnik’s example above. And my main point was regarding the transgender issue, where transgender-identifying people’s brains much more closely resemble the averages for their biological sexes rather than the sexes with which they identify. So even if we can someday determine the sex of a person with 100 percent accuracy based on brain structure, it wouldn’t help the case for transgender people having the wrong brain for their sex.

        • Somewoman says

          At first glance the 69 to 77% seems low. As if we would do better with more detailed scans of our brains. But then again, probably most other organs are difficult to distinguish by gender at all. Apart from guessing based on gross size, is there any way at all to tell if hearts, livers or lungs belong to males or females just by looking at visuals of them?

          • S. Cheung says

            Some woman-
            Gross size would not be a good discriminator. But if indexed to body mass, or body surface area, that is better. But there would probably still be some overlap near the upper limits of normal for women and the lower limits of normal for men. Of course that also assumes said organs to be normal and not diseased.

        • Tiptree says

          @Asenath Waite

          Cool handle, btw. 😉

        • Meanonsunday says

          You’re missing the point though. There’s a lot of overlap in how fast individual men and women can run 100m as well. Does this mean that we can say that gender has no impact on running speed? Of course not. So if for example the way that we selected candidates for a job was based on physical speed or strength it’s obvious to us that men would have an advantage and therefore the selection criteria would have to be very strongly justified to avoid unfair bias against women. Ignoring gender differences in the brain can lead to the same kind of bias, unconscious or not.

          • Asenath Waite says


            Are you talking to me? It’s you all who are missing my point. I’m fully acknowledging important general average differences between the sexes while disputing the idea that there is a completely consistent delineation between the brains of individual men and women. It doesn’t make sense to classify an individual person as male or female based on their brain structure. This doesn’t seem like that hard of a concept to understand.

        • Michael K says

          So, women who develop schizophrenia do so at the same age as men? Gosh, history must be wrong.The medical literature has been wrong all these years.

        • CRC says

          Even a cursory understanding of the fact that sex hormone levels differ greatly btw. M vs. F, and thus receptor densities for the various hormones differ likewise, would lead one to not make such an erroneous conclusion. Nor would one assume that “all measurable aspects” is a constant.

      • Aerth says

        Yup. It is always funny when progressives can’t, or don’t want to, see contradictions in their beliefs.

      • Todd W. Clark says

        Dont fret…they will embrace the differences, then just further propogate ideas aligning that a female brain is subject to patriarchial oppression, sexism, and misigyny. Why bother with things like truth and rationality if your core premises are all ideological in the first place? All one has to do is move the goalposts once again…and VOILA!…ideology intact!

    • Axel Wulff says

      “…it wouldn’t help the case for transgender people having the wrong brain for their sex.”

      That’s some industrial-strength stupidity right there.

      “…having the wrong brain for their sex.”


      Have you considered that these people may have severe psychological issues and that the fundamental structure of their brains, every cell of their bodies in fact, are not the issue?

      Sex is not the issue for people suffering from gender dysphoria, it’s their mental disease that’s the issue.

      • Ghatanathoah says

        @Axel Wulff

        If mental disease was the problem then we would expect transition to not help gender dyphoria. However, it does help them.

        Remember that you are your brain, not your body. If your brain is dissatisfied with what sort of body it wants housing it then that is the brain’s prerogative.

        If someone expressed a desire to be a bodybuilder, would you say that they have a mental illness (muscle-size dysphoria?) and should treat their mental illness instead of going to the gym?

      • CRC says

        “these people may have severe psychological issues” Please explain the physical mechanism behind these “psychological” issues? Or are you postulating the supernatural?

      • Asenath Waite says

        @Axel Wulff

        Good thing I’m arguing against that position.

    • David of Kirkland says

      Does sex also create big differences in heart, liver, kidney, spleen, stomach, intestines, lungs, skin, blood, bones and muscle tissue?

  2. Somewoman says

    I also find it weird that people are so afraid of whatever neurological differences there are between men and women given that we already know how the instincts of these brains play out in the complex world. We know men commit violent crimes 10x the rate as women, that female and male average iqs are very similar etc.

    We don’t need to be afraid of the fact that males have bigger brains when we know that women do better in school from elementary age through college. The larger brain fact might offend some feminists, but my understanding is that brain size has a rather low correlation with intelligence even within sex. Plus, I think that the brain to body size ratio doesn’t favor men quite as clearly (its variable based on age).

    It’s too bad that this field is basically not honestly researched. It would be interesting to see how brain structure correlated with aptitude types and how it varies not only within gender but within races. For example, why are East Asian women the only race of women whose mathematical aptitude exceeds their own verbal aptitude? Is that something neuroscience can help us understand? It’s a pity these are not questions anyone asks.

    • Saw file says


      “men commit violent crimes 10x the rate as women”

      That claim is double what the actual rate is.

      I am somewhat lost when it comes to interpreting violent assault (by gender) rates. I don’t even know if it possible to assign any correlation to each gender.
      Men a much less likely to report, and I believe that the degree of assault should somehow be taken into account.
      There’s a big difference between a slap and being stomped into a coma, or being shot and having cup full of pop thrown on you.

      I’d appreciate it if someone knowledgeable in interpreting statistics could take a bit of time to explain.

      • Somewoman says

        Not sure what’s confusing to you. I thought the article you linked to was very clear. No one familiar with the data anywhere is denying that men are vastly more likely to commit violent crimes than women. It’s not an issue of under reporting. The place least likely to see underreporting or failure to prosecute when there is evidence is homocide. And you can see for yourself what the male to female ratio of homocide perpetrators is.

        • Saw file says

          There’s a difference between violent crime and violent assault. Violent crime can be committed with out involving any assault.
          True. Men are largely over represented as perpetrators, but their victims are also overwhelmingly other men. And men do under report these crimes. Sexual assault alone is reported at a rate of less than %10. I suggest that female on male assault is reported even less than that.
          I’m not sure how you can’t see how that leads to confusion in understanding the true rates.
          I want to be factually accurate in my claims, so that I don’t (eg.) state rates that are double of what they really are.

        • Turd Ferguson says

          Most studies show women to be just as aggressive and violent as men. They differ in the degree and type of violence they commit. For example extensive studies of domestic violence find women as likely as men to perpetrate violence against their partners. This is especially pronounced among lesbian couples though the issue is rarely discussed out of concerns of political correctness. Women are also the single greatest threat to children perpetrating a much higher rate of abuse and violence toward their offspring than men.

          • Somewoman says

            Show me any study anywhere that shows that women are just as aggressive and violent as men. There are dozens of classes of violent crimes. If women are equally likely to commit domestic violence, that still in no way indicates that the likelihood of violence is equal between genders.

            Frankly, you have to be in serious denial of a very salient pattern across criminal conviction and school suspension data to believe women have equal propensity towards violence as men.

          • Thylacine says

            @somewoman: Men ARE more aggressive, but mostly against other men, and non-acquaintances. There are hundreds of sociological surveys from around the western world using a variety of methodologies which can be summed up as follows: in about half of the cases of intimate partner violence (IPV), the violence is mutual; in about a quarter, the violence is male-perpetrated only; and in about a quarter, it is female-perpetrated only. Women are as likely as men to initiate IPV. Martin Fiebert has an annotated bibliography of these studies.

            As Grant A. Brown showed in his analysis of IPV prosecutions in Edmonton, Canada, the biggest gendered difference is the way in which the law-enforcement system responds to IPV. He notes (published in sexuality & culture, 2004) that at every stage, from the moment the incident is (or is not) reported, to the moment the courtroom door closes, men are treated more harshly than women when all relevant factors are controlled for. The effects of this systemic discrimination against men in law-enforcement are cumulative, and result in the kinds of skewed statistics favoured by advocates and politicians seeking the feminist vote. (Men don’t tend to report IPV because they know that even if they are the victim, and the only injured party to the dispute, they are still more likely to be arrested than the perpetrator.)

          • Axel Wulff says

            Hear, hear!

            In the mid-90’s Massachussetts changed the law on domestic violence to oblige the police to press charges. Prior to the change the “victim” had to press charges and they often declined. Feminist thought this meant that too many men got away with domestic violence and got the law changed.

            The police, being a bit closer to reality, saw what was coming and scrupulously documented each case and put a female cop in charge of the investigation whenever possible.

            What came out was that the female was indicted in ~40% of the domestic violence cases, which caused an uproar among the usual suspects.

            The law was quickly changed.

          • somewoman says

            @ Turd F

            Actually, women are less likely to perpetrate child abuse than men when one accounts for how much more time women spend with children than men. The single greatest threat to children is not from women, but from their male partners who are not the father of those children.

            While there are factors that lead to the underconviction of women in violent crimes, there are major factors that also lead to the underconviction of men. The main one is that men are far more likely to be responsible for difficult to solve violent crimes such as serial murders where the victim has no known relationship with the perpatrator and drive by shootings which are hard to pinpoint. Female driven violent crime is strongly connected with people they usually know closely and often with a clear motive as well (like trying to collect insurance money or trying to get rid of a burdensome kid). This makes those crimes easier to solve.

            Thus, I dont think we have any evidence to suggest that female conviction rates for violent crimes in general are less than men’s overall.

        • Thylacine says

          @somewoman: Homicide isn’t as good an indicator of sex differences in violence as you think. Some deaths that are actually murders are not investigated, or are mis-classified as natural, because women are generally above suspicion. This happens more when women are the perpetrators than when men are, because women are more likely to use surreptitious methods like poisoning, and because infant deaths are sometimes treated as mysterious crib deaths when in fact they were infanticides. Consider that we have terms like “black widows” and “angels of mercy” to describe wives who serially kill husbands for the inheritance and nurses who kill patients by over-medication. Men ARE more aggressive; but as is typical with sex differences, culture amplifies the actual, biological difference: because we expect violence from men and not from women, we are less likely to notice when women are violent, and more likely to convict innocent men.

          • I Like To Think I Think Basic says

            Okay, just slow down. Unless you have actual numbers, this conversation is moot. There are an infinite number of factors both supporting and detracting from your hypothesis that people can list, so listing factors without any bearing on prevalence is pointless. And until you have specific reason to believe that your factors account for a significant portion of the violence, enough to make a statistical difference, any scientist would be wont to believe such a claim. Therefore, the consensus at the moment among rational thinkers must agree roughly with the original claim that men perpetrate violence much more frequently than women do, and in much greater degrees. Until research is done to suggest that THIS well-researched phenomenon isn’t accounting for whatever one of the infinite factors you could list, we cannot assume they are statistically significant factors. And to the thought that “well we also cannot assume they are NOT statistically significant factors”, I say this: statistics and science in general is not a symmetric battleground. Once something is established as a null hypothesis, then it takes overwhelming evidence to overturn that hypothesis. So we cannot say that the infinite untested factors could be statistically significant — as scientists, until we actually test these factors to see whether or not they are, they ARE statistically significant as a consequence of the null hypothesis adopted.

            You may not like this null hypothesis thing, but this is the M.O. of how almost all 20th-21st century studies have been done, ever since Fisher first introduced the concept. It is universally accepted in the sciences, and its nature is why scientists have to be careful what they conclude, because there is no rule in nature or statistics that an incorrect null hypothesis will (or CAN, even) always be overturned with more data. THIS is why it is important if people assume things about men and women, or about IQ, as “null hypotheses” when in fact they lack the studies that make them so, and THIS is why you would need to do significantly more research to back your thesis.

    • Johnny k w says

      The average IQ between men and women are fairly similar though the variance of the distribution for IQ is different between the two groups. Men have a greater amount of variance, thus, there are a greater amount of male geniuses and male idiots. Women among most traits show higher concentration around the mean versus males. This has important implications for gender ratios in areas such as STEM which involve a subset of the general population that have unique characteristics. Working in STEM requires having a high IQ and being very analytical thus one explanation for the higher prevalence of men in STEM fields is that they are simply more men that have the qualities necessary to thrive in these fields. This probably applies to all subset populations where some immense talent or ability is required to be successful such as why there more great male comedians, writers, etc.

      • somewoman says

        Men have greater variance, but in the case of STEM, they also have higher average mathematical abilities and seemingly greater innate interest in engineering, math and objects in general. Many stem jobs are known to be iq dependent. I do not think IQ variance explains why there are more male comedians because there doesn’t appear to be much evidence to indicate that IQ increases the liklihood of being a successful comedian. If that were the case, you would expect to see a preponderance of asian comedians and very few black ones. That is manifestly not the case. Thus, being a comedian is probably dependent on drive and personality attributes.

        As for writing, I find it subjective. I dont think you can make a measurable claim that some group of writers are better than others. Some people like science fiction, some like historical fiction etc. There are awards but Toni morrison has a nobel prize and pullitzer prize in literature so I dont know what having an award says.

        • Passerby says

          Probably not simply greater variance in IQ. About 80 percent of the hundreds of studies i have seen showed men having higher IQ by 2-5 points, around 15 percent equal IQ, and around 5 percent lower IQ.

          If there are differences in all kinds of cognitive abilities then i do not think that that the gender difference in intelligence will be exactly zero.

          It makes sense to me because intelligent men reproduce better than intelligent women, thus intelligence could be somewhat sexually antagonistic – it hepls men to reproduce more than it helps women.

          For STEM, It is not only mean gender dif in math ability that exists, but there also differences in mechanical reasoning and spatial ability, that could be even more important for STEM and especially engineering.

          Some gender differences in psychomotor abilities could be helping men in STEM too, for example surgeons.

          For writing i would say men win most prizes, write the most popular books as well as the most selled books (on average).

          For humor and IQ, there is correlation between the two. Look up for studies on this issue. I have seen at least two.

          Asian IQ is more spatial than verbal. There is large number of jewish comedians – the people with the highest IQ. They are quite overrepresented among good US comedians compared to their numbers in the US population – mere 2 percent. Obviously humor is not only IQ related though.

          • somewoman says

            @ passerby

            “For writing i would say men win most prizes, write the most popular books as well as the most selled books (on average).”

            Men dont really write more best selling books. 5 of the top 10 all time best selling authors are female, including Agatha Christie and JK Rowling.

            “It makes sense to me because intelligent men reproduce better than intelligent women, thus intelligence could be somewhat sexually antagonistic – it hepls men to reproduce more than it helps women.”

            I doubt that’s a sensible hypothesis because if this were the case, one would expect greater dimorphism in IQ than 2-5 points in most studies.

            IQ tests are gender normed so the 2-5 points doesn’t mean much. The test is specifically weighted so it doesn’t produce much gender difference. As for comparing intelligence between sexes, it’s almost impossible. Men and women have such different behavioral dispositions in aggregate, things that normally indicate intelligence within a gender fall apart between genders. For example, intelligence correlates positively with living longer. But women live longer than men as females live longer than males in most mammals. It simply isn’t intelligence related.

          • Passerby says

            For writing, the ratio is 50/50 for the top ten authors, but the top 20, top 50 and top 100 are more male dominated. I would say that these matter too. So men are definitely the majority of the best selling authors overall.

            The reproductive difference between smart men and women is not that large. Overall, in modern times, according to most studies, both men and women are dysgenic, but women are more dysgenic than men.

            IQ tests are apparently not gender normed enough because they still produce sex differences. Also not all IQ tests are gender normed. Most also exclude mental rotation, where the largest sex differences are to be found.

            Now why would 2-5 IQ difference matter? Small mean differences combined with modest differences in variance can have a surprisingly large effect on the number of individuals who excel. It has been shown that if scores are normally distributed in two populations and if one population has both a higher mean score and a larger variance than the other, then the ratio of the number of individuals in the population with the higher mean to that of the other population (the tail ratio) increases at higher percentiles in the upper tails of the distribution.

            The underlying factor that can be extracted for IQ tests is the G-factor, which is a bit different that the manifest IQ score, although it is highly correlated to it. Some sub-tests in an IQ tests are more G-loaded, some less. It is a variable that summarizes the positive correlations among different cognitive tasks, reflecting the fact that an individual’s performance on one type of cognitive task tends to be comparable to that person’s performance on other kinds of cognitive tasks.

            Individuals who excel at one type of test tend to excel at other kinds of tests, too, while those who do poorly on one test tend to do so on all tests, regardless of the tests’ contents.

            Research has found that the performance on any of the different sub tests of an IQ test (as well as school subjects) is highly correlated with a common factor of intelligence. It is this multi-test, multi-subject correlation that G represents.

            The G factor is the most general of all and is common to all mental abilities. G maybe thought of as a distillate of the common source of individual differences in all mental tests. G can be roughly likened to a computer’s central processing unit.

            An average correlation of 0.85 has been found between the g loadings of 17 different tests when included one at a time in the separate factor analyses of six batteries, each composed of eight highly diverse tests.

            The data do provide support for a view that the g-loading of a type of test task has substantial stability and is to a considerable extent determined by the characteristics of the test itself, rather than the context in which it appears. Therefore, any particular test’s g loading does not fluctuate from one collection of tests to another. If a battery of tests is diverse in sampling the domain of abilities and is large, its g factor will be stable.

            The practical validity of G as a predictor of educational, economic, and social outcomes is more far-ranging and universal than that of any other known psychological variable. The validity of G is greater the greater the complexity of the task.

            As for intelligence correlating positively with living longer, things there a more complicated than that, because there are many factors counteracting each other that affect life expectancy, and some may be stronger than others. 2-5 IQ points dif will obviously not have large effect and will have to compete with other factors. For example higher testosteron levels will cause more risky behaviors in men, which in turn will have negative impact on their longevity. There is large number of factors impacting longevity.

            It will be even more incorrect to compare different species in this type of context. A correlation between intelligence and longevity has been found within a certain specie – humans. Comparisons will work better if they stay within the same specie. When other species are involved, then far more mutually counteracting factors will be involved too, that will in turn affect life expectancy.

        • Stephanie says

          It seems to me black people tend to be funnier and more naturally musical. I wonder if this is cultural or has a biological basis? Any thoughts?

          • Rosalina S says

            I also hear that Italians are more artistically inclined than other people. Is that cultural or does it have a biological basis?

          • Mike says

            My thoughts are that it is biological. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

      • I Like To Think I Think Basic says

        @Johnny k w – I think for this to be true you would have to assume that the very tail end of the distribution is being captured, rather than a little bit larger tail. It’s easy to state heuristics and talk about how the way things are is pretty much the way things should be, but what are the actual numbers? Supposing that all your statements on needing X IQ to thrive in STEM, how many men and women have X IQ. Furthermore, what ratio of men to women should we expect in the U.S. given that there are Y jobs available. You might assume that the jobs will go to the highest-IQ individuals available, yet there have been studies published and books written (“Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell, for one) that suggest less correlation between geniuses and success than near-geniuses and success.

        So it is quite important to know the numbers on this. Else, nothing would prevent someone from using the last sentence in the above paragraph to say “Well, a greater proportion of geniuses aren’t as successful as their less-intelligent counterparts, so the fact that there are more genius men than women means that there are more unsuccessful genius men than women, hence if everything you said about IQ holds, perhaps 50-50 is what we SHOULD expect.” It’s very important to know the actual numbers — they might change your fundamental conclusion!

    • @ somewoman

      From a woman, I think a lot of these differences are natural as opposed to statistics where girls success better in schooling systems designed for this to be so. In the seventies I was chosen to go to the clever classes which were dominated by mathematics, there were eight boys and two girls and eight boys. The other girl and I hated the curriculum but didn’t want to disappoint our parents who were femminest minded and proud of us.

      Ultimately, successful cultures depend on the successful reproduction and survival of their young.

      Something that the western world seems to have forgotten?

    • David of Kirkland says

      If you think science uncovers proof that your tribe is better than their tribe, you’ll continue to miss learning. This idea of one being better than another is absurd.

  3. Sydney says

    Anyone care to bet me? This book is being ordered by school librarians for Canadian public school libraries as we speak (well, it’s still Spring break, but they’re back on Monday). It will be cited as irrefutable scientific and biological FACT by ideologically drunk Canadian K-12 union teachers to their students in 3…2…1…

    • Saw file says

      I’d say probably more so the Provincial school board’s curriculum content creators, rather than the librarians.
      Still though, you’d have to give me markedly usurious odds before I would risk even a tooney on that wager.

  4. Jean Levant says

    Healthy and useful article.
    “She cites potential misuse of the findings for sexist ends, which has surface plausibility.”
    There we are. The political correctness of this era will end all searches and discussions except, perhaps, about sports and wheather (but not climate). Thanks Quillette.

    • JasonT says

      Progressive political correctness is in danger of killing science entirely, not to mention good judgement. Stand firm, all ye who wish to think…

  5. Craig DeLancey says

    Dr. Cahill: Since book reviews are not peer reviewed, is the reason Nature let itself fawn over this book a product of the fact that this is a book review and presumably thus more of an opinion piece? Or do you find this kind of bias is a problem in peer review of submitted articles in the field?

    • Stephanie says

      Craig, at least one editor would have had to greenlight the piece. Even for a book review they would have been hugely selective in both the choice of book and the take on it. If anything, without peer review it is a more reflection of naked ideology.

      • Craig DeLancey says

        I agree, but it seems we should be even more worried if this kind of bias pops up frequently in peer review of articles. Then it could even limit what kind of data we have available.

  6. So if there’s no difference between male and female brains, then what leads men to insist they’re women or women to insist they’re men? It’s not their bodies as their bodies are female or male. It’s not their DNA. It’s not their hormones, as they need to take the hormones. So what is it? Hmmm. How do the biological men and women “know” they are “really” the other gender to such an extent they have to alter their bodies with chemicals and the knife, and it is so core to their being that it is a crime to call them by their birth gender even as it’s not a crime for born males and females (e.g. someone calls me a guy if I’m a masculine female, and I just stick my middle finger at them, but if I’m trans and someone calls me a guy, I can call the cops on them)? Why all this if genders are really not only alike under the law but alike in our brains? And if we are all alike, then what causes the genders to want to be the other?

    Also, why, if our bodies are different and our hormones are different, would our minds be identical? This treats our brains as not part of our body, a quasi-religious, primitive, and wholly unscientific view.

    But of course, we all know the answer: Women are wholly and fundamentally the same as men AND women are wholly and fundamentally different from men.

    If it puts women higher on the victim-as-power pyramid, then we are different from men.
    If it puts women higher on a jobs pyramid, then we are the same as men.

    That this is endorsed by a scientific magazine is appalling

    • BrainFireBob says

      It’s a moronic rhetorical device- any concession whatsoever validates the existence of the other position; not using such a device allows mature dialog between good-faith participants who are mature adults with different points of view but disallows childish “total destruction” and invalidation of one’s “enemies.”

      So “conceding” in any way that there are any non-gendered differences isn’t just a Lysenkoism of the left, I’m patiently anticipating their claiming that women having breasts is Lamarckian; and that it is only their expectation they will develop them that results in the occurrence!

    • I Like To Think I Think Basic says

      Your initial statement is misleading. Imagine two identical computers, one we label “male” and the other “female”. The male computer gets a Windows OS and the female computer gets an Apple OS. These computers are physically identical, yet have completely different internal machinations and functions — hence, the statement “men and women’s brains are the same” is more of a statement of the physical nature of the brain, and thus different functionalities do not connote the types of “differences” one would write papers about. Different people make different choices and do different things, so obviously brains are “different enough” to warrant differences of outcome in some situations. However, your example does not demonstrate that male and female brains CAN’T be the same — though I personally believe they are, of course, not the same.

      • David of Kirkland says

        So if a male and a female are told to remember a phrase, each will do it differently based on how their different brains work?

    • David of Kirkland says

      Aside from general size differences, shouldn’t all other body parts also be different for the same reason? Do women have different hearts, lungs, intestines, livers, etc.? Or do these function the same regardless? Variability is obvious, but not necessarily determinative.

  7. S. Cheung says

    An excellent comprehensive critique (this piece seems more than mere review, but not quite a rebuttal).

    It appears the rule these days is to write a book, if you want to spread your ideas to a captive and uncritical audience (and the monetization helps). Rippon is probably en route to the bank as we speak. But If you want to produce science, then peer-reviewed journals is still the way to go. That’s more of a minefield than it once was, because of the spread of pay-to-publish garbage rags, and the fact that peer reviewers have their own biases and agendas, as well as the publication bias that favors “positive” results.

    It is very discouraging that a serious scientist would still engage in the sort of cherry-picking and selective misrepresentation of scientific data merely in the furtherance of a political agenda. All too common these days, it seems.

    • K. Dershem says

      I agree. The author asks a crucial question: “What exactly are people like Rippon so afraid of?” She’s apparently afraid that the results of studies will be misused to justify discrimination. That’s a legitimate worry, but how could the suppression and distortion of science possibly help? If your political agenda is founded on false premises — in this case, the claim that male and female brains are virtually identical to one another — it’s ultimately doomed to failure. Better to be honest about what the science reveals and make moral arguments that are based in reality. The same is true of drug warriors who exaggerate the dangers of marijuana, losing credibility in the process.

  8. Joel seemed to offer her “mosaic theory” as an attempt at a refutation of a belief in sex differences. This confused me — a bystander devoid of expertise in the discipline. It reminded me of Lewontin’s fallacy because it seemed to ignore the correlation relations between characteristics of components in the “mosaic.” Can someone explain this to me?

  9. BrainFireBob says

    As I understand the comment, and again, not an expert, I’d infer that she argued that since any particular structure is not inherently feminine or masculine but could appear in either gender, that the brain is fundamentally a unisex engine made of a mix of male and female parts.

    That would make it a form of purity test, defining only the two extreme (and possibly impossible) gender-isometric brains (100% “male” and 100% “female”) as gendered and all other iterations as inherently unisex.

    Inane, because logically you could only assign the “masculine” and “feminine” categorizations in the first place due to statistical significance of occurrence, and something of a collapsing tautology. I assume that predictions of a person’s gender by their brain is done by analyzing the on-balance aggregate of male vs female neurological structures- which in fairness is a different scale, where 51% of one gender’s characteristics marks you as that gender.

    That’s only a cursory first-level analysis, ignoring any kind of second-order interactive effect (ie, when these two structures are combined in a Gender Q brain, this third activity/structure is noticed that is never present in a Gender P brain that also possesses both structures).

  10. E. Olson says

    Over many thousands of generations women have gestated and breast-fed 100% of babies, which necessitated woman staying relatively immobile (i.e. close to camp). Over those same thousands of generations, men have ventured out to protect their camps and find/earn food and other resources because they were unencumbered by fragile babies. As a consequence of these differing biological roles, and due to mating selection based on a desire for physical and mental characteristics that would make each partner more adept and successful in carrying out their role, men and women have evolved to have very different physical characteristics and size. Yet feminists believe that human brains have been totally unaffected through all those thousands of years of largely separate gender roles, and therefore believe male and female brains are totally identical in structure and capability.

    Therefore lower female achievement in high status modern occupations is entirely due to patriarchy induced gender role socialization and sexism, which will necessitate discrimination against men to achieve the desired equal outcomes (except for all the dangerous, dirty, heavy, uncomfortable, low status jobs that women don’t want). Thus it is easy to see why feminists wouldn’t want any of the science stuff getting in the way of their desired narrative and the correction of thousands of years of male oppression and rape culture.

  11. Alberto Priori says

    Between genders the voice differs as the brain differs as many other anatomical and physiological features vary. There is no implication for better or worse. There is just a difference that warrants life

  12. Pingback: O zaprzeczaniu w neuronauce różcom płciowym – ideologia gender to pseudonauka! (‚Denying the Neuroscience of Sex Differences’) | Bio-Sławek

  13. Fickle Pickle says

    A different but complementary perspective.

    Modern society has been wrested, by technology, science and conventional institutionalized patriarchal religion, from its psychic and religious origins, from the understanding that the natural world and the psyche of the individual are a great and living Indivisible Unity that inheres in Great Mystery, or a Great Spirit.

    And, furthermore, wrested from everything associated with “Woman” or Shakti. From feeling-sensitivity, from the arts, from Beauty, from the realm of the senses, from true pleasure (as distinct from self-indulgence). The entire world has been overwhelmed by the more “Yang” (or more typically male) urge to conquer and control everything – even by gaining more and more information about everything.

    Everything about Woman and what She represents is now opposed by the powers that be.

    What is required is the restoration or the reintegration of the Feminine or “Yin” Principle into every aspect of human culture. A culture based on Divine Contemplation and self-transcendence. The life of intrinsic beauty, of feeling, and true pleasure in which peace, toleration, and cooperation would become a reality among human beings. Thereby no one would want to jeopardize that life by trying to control and destroy other beings (both human and non-human) and the environment.

    • Jean Levant says

      I don’t see your point. Arts come from female principle? Are you joking? It seems to me you are not very serious. At least, we’d like to hope.
      The only thing in your speech I agree is about intuition (your feeling-sensitivity): indeed, the West World is in its larger part constructed on hard science which is pure reason and supposedly without a hint of intuition. that’s why arts are so developed in the West by counter-balancing the somewhat depressing effect of this hard hard (science) world.

    • Etiamsi omnes says

      I think i am living proof that gender and sex are totally independant of eachother, because I change genders – sometimes many times a day, without having to change underwear. And when I am of the feminine gender my brain becomes suddenly so Shakti and Yin and sensitive to intrinsic beauty! Alas, those moments of Divine Contemplation are so fleeting…

  14. Carolyn Field says

    Recent studies have found evidence that women’s brain undergo long-term neural restructuring during pregnancy. The changes, a pruning of gray matter, is so consistent that “a computer algorithm could predict with 100% accuracy whether a woman had been pregnant from her MRI scan.” The pruning is thought to make the brain more effiecient.

    This raises many questions about the populations involved with the general sex-difference studies — how many of the women had given birth versus never given birth.

    • Jean Levant says

      Thanks to this useful information. I understand now why female feral cats with kittens are more intelligent than those which have not (neutered). Of course, there is nurture here as well because the female cat has more to think in order to protect its kittens than the others. I assume it is all the more true that it is wild cat.
      Well, that’s just about cats…

  15. ted peters says

    Neuroscience deals with hardware. Sexual identity is even more influenced by software and developmental data. Most of this is deeply repressed from early development and inaccessible because otherwise our mental/emotional/behavioral processes would be chaotic. Nonetheless, we all start without any sense of self and create this out of our early life experiences, initially with our mothers and then within the dynamic of the mother/father/child triad. As primates, our sexuality initiates in the first couple years of life, but must be denied to avoid conflicted relationships as we grow through childhood. Those who experience significant psychological trauma during this process are adversely impacted and act out the resultant confusions and anxieties as adults. Non of this has anything to do with neuroscience… but we have zero interest in discovering this reailty.

  16. Thylacine says

    Biology and culture interact, usually to augment biological differences. For example, men are taller than women on average, and if height were irrelevant to mating choices, the woman would be taller than the man in maybe as much as a third of all couples. But mate preferences are shaped by innate biological differences between the sexes, so women tend to prefer taller men and men tend to prefer shorter women – with the result that closer to 95% of all couples fit the stereotyped pattern.

  17. Steve says

    “No one seems to have a problem accepting that, on average, male and female bodies differ in many, many ways.”

    Oh dear, you really haven’t been keeping up, have you? We entered the Insane Ages some time ago — an age where the UK health authority prescribes pap smears for people who until recently were considered biologically male. “Trans” ideology is now moving toward the Alice in Wonderland position that trans people are literally the sex they think they are, including biologically.

  18. Jack of Spades says

    What’s going on here is the debate over the roles heredity and environment play and its implications for Progressive ideology, particularly feminist ideology. “Environment” is more malleable in political terms, but the gene pool is what it is. Unless you want to go the full eugenics.

  19. Lightning Rose says

    I don’t know what the ultimate agenda of the “unisex” crowd is, or why they’re attempting to erase our recognition of obvious biologically based characteristics. It seems to me a campaign by the poorly-adjusted to rewrite reality itself. Good luck with that, because . . .

    I’ve lived with animals all my life. Dogs, cats, horses, cattle, wildlife. Anybody who thinks a bull or stallion is “no different” from a cow or mare is invited to enter his pen for a quick biology lesson–and kindly pay up your insurance premiums first! A cockerel chick acts more aggressive and forward than a hen chick from one day old. Intact males are focused first, last and always on sexual consummation and that’s a constant across all species. Ever seen a buck in rut? Believe me, the does aren’t confusing each other with Big Antlers Guy! Yeah, silly academics, testosterone in nature is a “thing.” Even SHEEP can tell the boys from the girls behaviorally.

    Maybe all this sexual confusion comes from 70 years of our species eating an unnatural and unsuitable diet, which of course the UN wants to encourage.

    • JasonT says

      Lightening Rose – I think growing up with access to a barnyard would cure a lot of what ails the western world today. It would make it so much harder to fall for the inane.

    • Harrison Bergeron says

      “I don’t know what the ultimate agenda of the “unisex” crowd is, or why they’re attempting to erase our recognition of obvious biologically based characteristics.”

      I think that there is the surface agenda: That you must accept that men and women are the same or you are a bad person. And then there is the much more sinister underlying agenda: You must accept that four fingers are really five because we tell you so. In the end, this is always about power.

    • MadKangaroo says

      Hah! It does seem that the weirdness is highly concentrated in urban areas where so may folks have not: hunted, killed and processed a deer, cultivated a garden that actually feeds the family, sewn their own clothes, fixed a broken down truck, heated the house with wood they cut and split etc. etc. Better half and I were talking about this while hiking the other day, about how a generation that is so into “environmentalism” is unusually out of touch with nature except as occasional onlookers. It would not be surprising if the lack of experience with real nature misinforms many regarding this sex/gender business, methinks.

  20. Quasi says

    The underlying riddle is how do we live the belief of equality where “equal” and “same” are different. Scientific approaches are limited when the outcome is an apparent paradox.

  21. I work in physics. Recently we had conferences about gender and theoretical physics. Gina Rippon is the only neuroscientist who was invited

  22. GregWA says

    I can’t believe no one mentioned yet another brain. That of Hans Delbruck (RIP), or was it someone else? I forget, I think the name was “Abby” something.

  23. Etiamsi omnes says

    « So now the Emperor walked under his high canopy in the midst of the procession, through the streets of his capital; and all the people standing by, and those at the windows, cried out, “Oh! How beautiful are our Emperor’s new clothes! What a magnificent train there is to the mantle; and how gracefully the scarf hangs!” in short, no one would allow that he could not see these much-admired clothes; because, in doing so, he would have declared himself either a simpleton or unfit for his office. Certainly, none of the Emperor’s various suits, had ever made so great an impression, as these invisible ones.

    “But the Emperor has nothing at all on!” said a little child.

    “Listen to the voice of innocence!” exclaimed his father; and what the child had said was whispered from one to another.

    “But he has nothing at all on!” at last cried out all the people. The Emperor was vexed, for he knew that the people were right; but he thought the procession must go on now! And the lords of the bedchamber took greater pains than ever, to appear holding up a train, although, in reality*, there was no train to hold. »

    Hans Christian Andersen, The Emperor’s New Clothes

    *’Reality’ — Sorry for using a bad word, it was in the original, though.

    • JasonT says

      Etiamsi omnes – Apparently there is nothing new under the sun…

  24. sarah s. says

    The problem with the argument about gender and brain development is that most are not willing to accept that different but equal is still an option. We tend to think in false dichotomies; if our hormones and our brains are different, that we then aren’t equal. Similarity and equality are not interchangeable. Women and men have different brains, different body types and different capabilities, but both are required for balance. This does not mean that men are more intelligent than women, unless intelligence is being measured by one or two specific variables. It is believed that autism spectrum disorders occur 4x more frequently in males, which could be do in part to the difference of the male brain that is more apt to be more analytical, focused thinking, or also because ASD is under recognized or does not have the same criteria in females as it does in males. Males performing better in STEM careers does not mean women are less intelligent, or any less necessary or having equal rights or capabilities as men. Females have skills and intelligence in areas that men do not, such as social skills, multitasking, project management, negotiation, better long-term planning and macro views (having to plan for children, anticipate needs and future problems).

    We need to start thinking of our differences as opportunities, ways to balance one another and to improve the outcome for society and the human race rather than this constant tribalism, even in academics and gender discussion. First-generation feminism is vastly different from this third or fourth-wave feminism going on, and there is nothing wrong with studying gender differences and neurobiology/neuroscience, so long as differences do not get defines as less than or inferior to. We let our biases and fears of difference, change and our personal insecurities cloud science and rational discussion that can help us grow and understand each other better.

    • Jean Levant says

      @Sarah S
      “and there is nothing wrong with studying gender differences and neurobiology/neuroscience, so long as differences do not get defines as less than or inferior to.”
      I don’t think so. We don’t live in a sort of Utopia. There always will be some misuse of science by some people. We have to study, no matter what the result says or might say. If science is to discover that red-headed are cleverer than other men, it’s still okay for me (I’m not red-headed).

    • Zeph says

      “Males performing better in STEM careers does not mean women are less intelligent, or any less necessary or having equal rights or capabilities as men. Females have skills and intelligence in areas that men do not, such as social skills, multitasking, project management, negotiation, better long-term planning and macro views”

      Consider an alternative conceptualization:

      “Some humans performing better in STEM careers does not mean that whos who do no are less intelligent or less nessessary, or have unequal rights. Some humans have skills and intelligence in areas that others do not, such a social skills, multitasking, project management, negotiation, berrer long-term planning, or macro views. There is some preponderance of males in the first group (but not all are males), and some preponderance of females in the second group (but not all are females).”

      In this reframe, we are avoiding the broader implication that (males or females) who have STEM skills are inherently more intelligent or better than (males or females) with people skills, etc. and vice versa.

      That’s the core concept, I believe, as well as a better lead-in for reasons I will explain. Then any gender correlations (based on whatever mixture of nature and nuture) is secondary.

      I believe this approach makes it at least somewhat easier for people to accept that there are gender based partial correlations with these concepts, rather than implicitly making those differing skills inherently “male” or “female” via implicitly labeling them one or the other. And the non-judgement of which kind of skills are “better” is useful regarding people-skilled males compared to STEM skilled males, as well as STEM skilled females compared to people-skilled females – the point is equally relevant and important within a sex, not just between the sexes. This lead-in elicits less reactivity.

      That is – focus first on the core message, and THEN bring gender into it in a more nuanced manner. This results in a clearer message, a more broadly relevant message, and somewhat less resistance (partially sidestepping autopilot reactions), while also still conveying the essential core meaning.

      To elaborate on “autopilot reactions”: Statements that bebin with “Men are…” or “females are…” etc are ambiguous, at some level of emotional parsing (closer to amygdala level than pre-frontal cortex level). Does that mean “Some men…” or “All men” or “A few men…” or “Most men…” or “Men on average…” or “The best men…” or what? The reflexive and emotional response substitutes whichever interpretation stimulates the most fear, before thinking is fully engaged. The speaker may be intending this to refer to “Men on average…” but the emotional tone of the listener’s reaction may be set by the (metaphoric) Amygdala hearing “All men…”, even if their words reflect a subsequent intellectual understanding that the subject is men on average.

      (As an aside – use of this emotinal ambigutity is sometimes no accident, whether consciously or unconsciously used. Consider a statement like “men are only interested in sex” – I believe this is often MEANT on the emotional level to be interpreted as “(virtually) all men”, while retaining plausible deniability if challenged, as in “I just meant men in general”)

      So, while we wait for humans to evolve into more purely rational beings (don’t hold your breath), it can be more interesting and productive to sidestep the autopilots when we can – in ourselves as well as in others. Dealing with (and expressing) autopilot responses is part of being human, but such responses are kinda boring after a while.

  25. Clemens Lode says

    The first study is just referenced without explaining how exactly the study contradicts with the original point. And that is because the referenced study is a study on male and female rats, not on humans. Then, it goes on explaining the reason why gender / ‘neuroscience” is supposedly so wrong.

    The second article basically makes the point that additional research needs to be done with people with higher estrogen levels (aka women) as some neurological issues might play out differently for them.

    How does that “contradict” the idea of the book? You can have the same brain, one time on testosterone, one time on estrogen, and end up with different results. I haven’t read the original book, but does she make a point about how hormones have no effect on the brain? Then I would agree with the criticism. But I assume that the author of the article just typed in “gender neuroscience” in the news search and picked the top-most article, and linked them in this article.

  26. With such well formed logic coming from the halls of a California university, I may have to reconsider certain stereotypes consistently applied to our far left (coast) neighbor.
    Science can be so inconvenient at times.

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  28. Harrison Bergeron says

    Rippon’s book and more disturbingly, Natures endorsement of it, are yet another example of creeping Lysenkoism in the academy. In other words, the kind of attack on science using psuedoscience in the service of ideology that you might seen in the Soviet Union.

  29. stinkerp says

    It is a biological fact that there are two different sexes in virtually every species in the animal kingdom, which includes humans. They have different reproductive organs.

    Gender dysphoria is a psychological disorder characterized by feeling that your “identity” (a loosely-defined, highly subjective concept) is not aligned with your biological sex. A growing number of people would rather redefine science than accept that they have a psychological disorder. We see the same phenomenon with paraphilias.

    Dealing with a personal dysphoria or paraphilia can be extremely difficult but changing your response to it (cognitive behavior therapy) is a highly practical approach. Redefining science, society, and social policy is problematic, to say the least.

  30. Etiamsi omnes says

    In the general population, though, it is to be hoped, in any case, that — should some be offered to acquire one through transplant (or implant) — they realize they can’t afford to be too picky as to whether it is a male or a female one.

  31. Sydney says

    “No one seems to have a problem accepting that, on average, male and female bodies differ in many, many ways.”

    Not so fast. Many people have indeed developed a problem accepting this as fact.

    Consider the collective cultural delusion involved in allowing male-born ‘transwomen’ (natal males who have undergone puberty as males) to compete against actual women in athletic events and competitive sports.

    Fortunately, there’s finally some push-back to this practice by women athletes; but the trans community isn’t giving in, and the athletics organizations appear caught in a psychotic mind beam from space.

    When you consider all of this, then it’s not a huge leap to imagine highly politicized science ‘researchers’ and ‘experts’ churning out books like this.

    • C Young says

      “No one seems to have a problem accepting that, on average, male and female bodies differ in many, many ways.”

      The BBC’s Woman’s Hour programme has asserted that, because the gap between female and male athletes has closed, they will one day perform equally. There are many people who will deny science as it suits them. They don’t care about consistency.

      • Watch “the world’s strongest man” competitions and tell me that women will someday compete equally in that, I dare you (speaking to the BBC).

  32. Aaron says

    @Asenath Waite

    If the brain’s gender can be accurately identified 3/4 of the time then that is accurate enough for me.

    I don’t know how transgender brains is germane to this topic. Transgender is a social construct.

  33. Alice says

    For over 2000 years Christianity has been teaching that males and females are spiritually/temperamentally distinct so the idea it’s new and subversive to claim males and females think and feel differently is hogwash , it’s as old as the hills and a root of female oppression.

    The brain may show sexed characteristics but, as no one has yet convinced the world of what or where the origin of consciousness is or discovered exactly how any brain differences between the sexes translate to thinking or emotions, so what.

    • Tom More says

      I think the Big 5 Personality Traits data very clearly shows the significant differences between men and women as well as their different interests from day one, males preferring things and females preferring persons. Virtually all of the cliches’s about men and women are true. Its who we are.

  34. Tom More says

    Excellent article. Much needed. At the core of the conflict is the differing answer to the questions, what are we and how are we to live. Aristotle’s “Final Cause”.. the end or purpose of things. And indeed our Aristotelian “form” of our matter, is the organizing cue to an answer, especially our free-willed capacity to know and pursue authentic goods. The answers to these questions of being are not to be found in the details of our composition, but in our nature which is reducible to our being ordered towards certain ends and purposes as eyes are ordered towards sight. I like philosophers Ed Feser and Mortimer Adler on this stuff.

  35. I am wondering what an analysis of the same data who reveal on a gender-identity rather than a sex dimension.

    • jrchips says

      Obviously you haven’t read the other comments. If you had, you would realize you likely have your supposition entirely backwards.
      Physically we know that there are substantive differences between genders. Why, then, should we assume everything else is the same? Isn’t it more likely that other things would also be different?
      The problem is that we are assign value to the differences. Culturally this has led to discrimination. But if we simply accept and embrace the differences, and stop assigning relative value to them, we go a long way down the path to treating the genders as equal. I suspect those that have traveled extensively in, or lived in, other cultures understand this concept better than most.

    • This is like saying that men and women should be identical except for their sex organs, which is not true. Men and women have had different roles to fulfill for the past million years. The duties of being a mother differ radically from the duties of hunting zebras. The brain is involved in these duties.

  36. Despite getting 90% male resumes in my last hiring cycle, I ended up with a 50% female tech team by embracing the male female differences instead of pretending they don’t exist.

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  39. Men and women suffer from different mental illnesses, respond to meds differently, and act differently. It is implausible in the extreme that culture could cause the body to process drugs differently.

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  42. ADIL ALI says

    I agree with your comment: So an individual can’t be classified as a man or woman based on that individual’s brain. But I don not agree that there are structural dofferences between men & women brains . The main difference is functional and by that I mean the abstractive functionality not the physiological or the psycological one

  43. Klaudia says

    The funny thing is how sexist position Ms Rippon and Co take. They are fighting any notion of brain-based difference between sexes, because their assumption is, if brains differ, the male brain must be better.

  44. Joseph Ducreux says

    [Since Simone de Beauvoir in the early 1950s famously asserted that “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” ]

    Actually, girls naturally become women. Boys need to be taught how to be men.

  45. Karen J says

    Wow is this an awful hit piece attacking an excellent scholarly work. I’m sick of seeing mediocre men lavishly praised for lazy critiques of women’s works, so I’m going to take apart some of the problems in this article.

    Like Soh’s essay critiquing Rippon before it, this one starts out with a lie: that the Nature article reviewing Rippon’s book claims that “it is a myth evolution applies to humans.” What Rippon and Eliot actually say is that neuroscience has not proven some defining biological cause for certain variations in interests/skills between men and women. Rippon and Eliot are clearly not creationists and not arguing that humans did not evolve from other species.

    Having started with this obvious misrepresentation of Rippon’s thesis, Cahill rambles for a while about how he used to think men and women were not fundamentally different , until he courageously (?!) started wondering if there were some sex differences between men and women.

    Again, his argument relies on a dishonest conflation of two meanings of the term “sex differences”: one meaning that refers to differences in hormone levels/physical differences between men and women, and another meaning that refers to personality and intrinsic skill differences between men and women.

    Cahill spends almost an entire paragraph talking about how it is beneath him to respond to the book’s claims (a sure tell for a writer without an argument!) : “[The book] is so chock-full of bias one keeps wondering why one is bothering with it” and offering vague, uncited criticisms like “Rippon hides uncomfortable facts in footnotes.”

    His substantive criticisms, when he finally arrives at them, are startlingly weak. He claims that the methodology of one study Rippon cites is incorrect, but does not explain how this study was “rigged”. I guess we’re just supposed to trust Cahill over Rippon. He also claims she misrepresents another study, without explaining how she misrepresents it or why her interpretation is incorrect.Then it’s back to straw man attacks: Rippon’s critiques of some animal research are proof she is “denying evolution”. Nope.

    In a bizarre burst of self-importance, Cahill concludes that Rippon is simply too afraid to embrace his neurosexist beliefs about the “female brain”. He adds that he is only researching this topic because he cares deeply about women’s health.

    It should be obvious to any reader that Rippon did not write her book because she was afraid of medical researchers tailoring certain medicines to account for variations in the biology between men and women. She wrote it because she was sick of baseless claims about the intrinsic nature of the female mind being made by sexist men.

    That Cahill’s article is being taken seriously at all should be good evidence for how deep misogyny runs in the public sphere. This is an awful, poorly written screed full of misrepresentation and misdirection about an important work by a top female researcher.

    • C Young says

      That Cahill’s article is being taken seriously at all should be good evidence for how deep misogyny runs in the public sphere

      How sad to read this. When you start using the fact that people disagree with you as evidence for your position you’ve abandoned rational discourse and crossed over into the territory of religious fundamentalism or conspiracy theory.

      “Of course, you would say that, its the devil working through you/you are in on the conspiracy”

      Look after your mental health.

    • scribblerg says

      Self awareness isn’t your strong suit, it would seem. First, you seek to dismiss his criticism as coming from a “mediocre man”. Really? He’s broadly published, an is a prof at a fine university studying this exact subject. What is “mediocre” about him? Who would you prefer write a review? What is your criterion for determining who should review and criticize this work? You BEGIN with an ad hominem dismissal, committing a far worse logical error than Cahill by doing this. Fyi, as a matter of fact and reason, I can dismiss everything you say after due to your professed and demonstrated hostility to Cahill due to his status as a prof and being a man – which makes you an awful bigot. Wear that with honor…

      Next, in an essay like this, Cahill does no wrong by generalizing his impressions as this is what a “review” is – his POV on the subject. If he only generally offered his criticism, then you might have a point, but he goes on to offer specific criticisms to back up his general impression. What’s likely, given your demonstrated bias in your opening comment is that you don’t like his conclusions.

      When you deal with his specific criticisms, you don’t bother to refute them with better arguments or data, you just continue to insult him and dismiss him. And then you call his beliefs “neurosexist”.

      You aren’t engaged in intellectual dialog. You are emitting propaganda and shame and insults. Fortunately, most here have seen through folks who do this nonstop from the radical feminist brigade, you are an archetype and as common as peas.

      Hint for the future. Be bound by reason. Make actual arguments. And stop insulting people as bigots and worse when you don’t like their ideas. It makes you look awful, not him.

    • Blue Lobster says


      If this piece was so awful and so easily rebutted why didn’t Lise Eliot comment here and challenge Larry Cahill to a debate as she challenged Deborah Soh in the comment section for her article? If your “rebuttal” had genuine merit why would Larry Cahill not comment and challenge you to a debate?

      I don’t personally know any of you so I’m not going to speculate but it seems to me that the questions bear asking given that Eliot clearly read Soh’s article and saw fit to publicly issue such an invitation.

      To be quite clear, the quotation marks I used to bookend the word rebuttal are mean’t to indicate that, in my opinion, you did not, in fact, rebut Cahill but rather engaged in a vitriolic spasm of argumentum ad hominem. Virtually the entirety of your submittal is devoted simultaneously to attacking Larry Cahill and men in general, as well as heaping adulation on Gina Rippon, while ignoring and/or avoiding confronting the substance of Cahill’s claims.

      One wonders if you personally know Eliot, Rippon, Cahill or some combination thereof and, if so, what effect your opinions of them, as people rather than researchers, have on the tenor of your comment.

  46. LukeReeshus says

    “Most neuroscientists assumed that differences between males and females, if they exist at all, are not fundamental, that is, not essential for understanding brain structure or function.”

    Goodness gracious! I started reading this article in order to gauge the scope of modern blank-slatism, especially in academia, and right there in the third paragraph is an astounding sentence attesting to it. Thanks.

    Now back to reading…

  47. LukeReeshus says

    What Rippon and Eliot actually say is that neuroscience has not proven some defining biological cause for certain variations in interests/skills between men and women. Rippon and Eliot are clearly not creationists and not arguing that humans did not evolve from other species.

    [Cahill’s] argument relies on a dishonest conflation of two meanings of the term “sex differences”: one meaning that refers to differences in hormone levels/physical differences between men and women, and another meaning that refers to personality and intrinsic skill differences between men and women.

    Best definition I’ve heard for a modern blank-slater: someone who thinks humans evolved, but only from the neck down

    To wit: your insistence on balkanizing sex differences between “hormone levels/physical differences” vs. “interests/skills” belies, I think, this prejudice.

    “Wait, you think men and women differ not just body-wise, but brain-wise too? What are you, a sexist?”

    That Cahill’s article is being taken seriously at all should be good evidence for how deep misogyny runs in the public sphere.

    Apparently, yes.

    • LukeReeshus says

      (This was intended as a reply to Karen J)

    • Karen J says

      You understand there is a difference between correlation and causation, right? And do realize that calling someone a “blank slatist” or claiming they don’t believe in evolution is in no way a meaningful rebuttal or refutation?

      • LukeReeshus says

        Not to be pedantic, but I called you a “blank-slater,” not a “blank-slatist.” Feel free to use your own personal noun, but personally, I think mine’s more poetic. Anyway…

        ….is in no way a meaningful rebuttal or a refutation?

        Hey, just to be fair, those are two different things. One follows the other.

        I, certainly, wasn’t attempting a refutation of everything you wrote. That would require quite a bit of homework, which I don’t really feel like re-doing.

        No, I was just offering a rebuttalll to what you wrote. Because it struck me as poorly argued. Because its final point attempted to claim that the only reason anyone would take the above essay seriously was because they were a misogynist. That’s just name-calling. It’s lame, too, argument-wise.

        It’s lame because—and it’s crazy that I even have to bring this up… Can you guess what basic observation I keep hearing from people who have kids for the first time? People who witness children growing up, from babies, to toddlers, to kids, and actually pay attention to that process (because they have to, as parents)? Can you guess what they keep noticing in the development of young children?

        “Man, boys and girls are different.”

        I keep hearing people confessing to noticing this. And they intone this basic observation as if it’s some Hidden Truth.

        It’s strange.

  48. scribblerg says

    Today’s feminism destroys everything. It’s a political menace, clawing its way through the academy and deforming every aspect of our intellectual and scientific endeavors now.

    I wonder if women get how this looks? Are you proud of how rabid feminists have become? How vicious? How dishonest? How about how they abuse every bit of power they have? And how willing they are to push any narrative that aggrandizes their views, regardless of the facts?

    John Money was a creep who’s science was rejected long ago.
    Judith Butler doesn’t do science, she does politics and rhetoric.

    Yet here we are dealing with truly dangerous people perpetuating their lies and propaganda to deform scientific research. Hungary has it right, and Brazil too. We need to stop funding gender studies and we may need to outlaw such dangerous political movements as they are corrupting the very foundation of reason in our societies.

    • Hormonal says

      John Money was a legitimate sex criminal. You should read John Colapinto’s “As Nature Made Him,” a biography of David Reimer. Reimer suffered a botched electro-cauterization circumcision and Money advised his parents to “turn him into a girl” and raise him so without his knowing.

      It was obviously a complete failure that tore the family apart. Reimer himself always “knew” he was male, despite literally decades of intensive brainwashing. When he learned the truth, he immediately became male again, went through two prosthetic penises, and killed himself in the very masculine Hemingway style: shotgun to the brain stem.

      “As Nature Made Him” is one of the most terrifying books you’ll ever read. On Judith Butler, she’s mentally retarded and nothing she has to say about anything has any value.

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  50. Hormonal says

    Absolutely correct on all counts, author. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article and found that it resonated with questions I’ve been asking myself from the perspectives of different biology fields. A couple of examples below.

    Evolutionary: What does it mean that mammalian sexual dimorphism evolved before the advent of the species? How could we be exempt from an adaption so ancient that it predates the evolution of consciousness itself?

    Molecular: What hormonal balance causes the developing fetus to differentiate into one or the other sex, or to become intersex? Assuming the endocrine system is tightly coupled with the neurological system (blood carries gland-secreted hormones to brain receptors), what does it mean that sex differentiation happens before brain development?

    The obvious answer is that sex differences are real and important, regardless of how accurately we can measure them or with how much wisdom we can interpret the results of our research. I’m personally more interested in questions like how the species in aggregate seems to “know” that pregnant mothers should birth about 51% females.

    But first we have to deal with the blue-haired inquisition bleating feminist mantras about “gender” (as you rightly said, a grammatical construct) and “sexual identity” (meaningless without a firm understanding of biochemical sex differences anyway).

    Ironically and worryingly, some of the people I know to flatly deny this area of research are practicing biologists. They hamstring their own scientific literacy because a dickgirl happened to short slogans at them in college.

    As far as the general public goes, well they’re lost anyway, even without the fake news media brainwashing them to believe identity politics mindrot.

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  54. Phil says

    I am the biggest proponent of free speech. But so-called “experts” who deny large bodies of scientific literature are being given platforms by other ideologues, and are allowed to peddle their warped ideological views far and wide, and these are views that stand in total juxtaposition to the scientific consensus. The media is complicit, and frankly anyone who doesn’t pipe up is also. This critique is well-written and most likely more accurate than Rippon’s analysis, but will reach a limited audience.

    Why aren’t more neuroscientists brave enough to speak out?

    I’ve recently concluded that remaining silent on the sort of attacks on science create a void which will no doubt be filled by ideologues. So when ideologues spew anti-scientific rhetoric, the most dangerous thing we can all do is to remain silent, and not object. This creates a vaccum that will be filled by those who are set on causing the most chaos possible.

    Give credit where it’s due, but use the power of truth to put an end to unscientific facts.

    Young people deserve better.

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