SCI-ART LAB

Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication

 Picture a scientist in your head: the image is likely to be male. We're just
wired that way. The same wiring causes internal dissonance when we are
faced with a female scientist

Ladies in the labs are saying something: Scientists are scientists. Don't try to differentiate them into men scientists and women scientists.

Women are fighting another battle related to labs:  pseudo-scientific neuro-science that deals with sexism. Neurosexism is the sexist assumption that gender differences perceived in character and behaviour are caused by biological differences in brains. Neurosexism provides a framework for treating people differently on the basis of gender, which causes them to behave differently, which in turn creates so-called gender differences, which in turn prop up neurosexism — the epitome of circular logic and of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Neurosexism is a flawed belief that results from the intersection of neuroscience and sexism. This bias is largely caused by institutional and cultural forces, causing neuroscience (including neurobiology and neurology) researchers to make sexist assumptions about how brains, and therefore minds, work. It is deeply misplaced, but has nonetheless priovided a bedrock for sexism to gain superficial scientific validity in the eyes of many both within the scientific community and outside it (4). "Neurological sex" does not exist in reality. On the neural level of analysing cognition and the brain there is no gender. Gender is a self-concept as well as a social construct but not a neurological configuration.

All people, even scientists, have biases because they are unable to come out of cultural and religious conditioning of their minds. Yes, some scientists are trying to tell the world that a woman's brain is different from that of a man's. And they are trying to provide some silly proof too. This hunt for brain differences “has been vigorously pursued down the ages with all the techniques that science could muster”. And it has exploded in the past three decades, since MRI research joined the fray. One peer-reviewer even told some women scientists to get mens' help to conduct research and write papers because women can't do it on their own (1).  Sex-difference research is rife with innumeracy, misinterpretation, publication bias, weak statistical power, inadequate controls and worse. That is why we call it pseudo-science.

Conclusive findings about sex-linked brain differences have failed to materialize. Beyond the “missing five ounces” of female brain — gloated about since ancient times — modern neuroscientists have identified no decisive, category-defining differences between the brains of men and women (3). 

Moreover, very often media stories too continue to promote the idea of very different brains on little evidence.

We have heard these silly things from 'some of highly intelligent men in labs' and see how we want to take on them:

1. Women are a big distraction. They make us fall in love with them in a lab (yes, this is said by a scientist)

Women scientist (WS): Oh, yes, beauty plus brains is a deadly combination. It will eat your brain and make you lose yours like this ... 

 Love

But aren't men a big distraction to women too in a lab? When hormones play a role in your biology, attraction and distraction are true for both men and women. Only thing is women can control their urges very efficiently and concentrate on their work well. Accept that!

2. When we review and criticize womens' work, they cry!

WS: Don't men cry? My male colleagues cry before me! I console them, not complain about their weaknesses.

3. Damsels in distress need our help most of the time. This makes us deviate from our work.

WS: Aha, whenever a man tries to help us, we get amused and smile. And we let them too to make their ........ oh,  let me leave it unmentioned. We are not what men think we are!

Why? 

A brilliant brain can realize the reason. No spoon-feeding will be provided here. Go, get the answer  yourself.

4. Women can't work for long hours. 

WS: We work from 8 am to 10 pm in a lab and then still sit in libraries/before PCs for prolonged hours (for nearly 20 hours a day) reading all the literature and writing papers, articles, blogs and what not. What do you call that? Play?

5. Women are not good at Mathematics and Physics

WS: Go through these lists 

Women_in_physics

these-17-women-changed-the-face-of-physics-

famous-female-physicists

List_of_women_in_mathematics

women in science

Indias-rocket women ...

and say that again!

6. Women can't think like a man

WS: I never saw any man thinking differently from any woman in  a lab.

For ages patriarchal societies made women sit in a cage called home. We are not allowed to see the world outside. How can new circuits form in a woman's brain then? Provide a level playing field and then see the result.

7. A woman's brain is smaller than a man's

WS: So what?! We can work more efficiently with less gray matter too!

Brain size increases with body size, and certain features, such as the ratio of grey to white matter or the cross-sectional area of a nerve tract called the corpus callosum, scale slightly non-linearly with brain size. But these are differences in degree, not kind. As researchers note, they are not seen when we compare small-headed men to large-headed women, and have no relationship to differences in abilities to function.

Craniometry - is pseudo-science too. The scientific measurement of skulls and thinking that as male brains are bigger than female ones, they are more intelligent and better at science.

Neanderthals too had skulls which were same size and sometimes larger than modern humans but a large portion of their brain was solely designated to processing images from their huge eyes. They were doomed by vision-centered brains. Their cognitive abilities were very low when compared to humans. They would not be as smart as modern humans (Humans: Large prefrontal Cortex (forehead), Neanderthals: Small prefrontal cortex but had a large occipital lobe for seeing in low light). The Prefrontal Cortex controls orchestration of thoughts , planning, complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behavior. Also a larger portion of their brain was used to regulate their stronger body, not to think. 

Recent research says bigger brains don't make you smart. 

There is an "ideal" brain circuit size suited to carrying out particular tasks. Researchers from the University of Cambridge in the UK found recently that increasing the size of neural circuits in the brain can boost learning performance. However, this increased connectivity also has the potential to impede learning, according to scientists. 

The study, published in the journal PNAS, looked at how neural circuits can use additional connectivity to achieve faster and more precise learning. It showed that adding apparently "redundant" neurons -- cells that make brainwork -- and synaptic connections, that enable information to flow from one neuron to another, to a network is a double-edged sword.

On the one hand an increase in connectivity can make a task easier to learn.

On the other hand, due to inherent noisiness in signal-carrying connections, increased connectivity will eventually hinder both learning and task performance once a circuit exceeds a certain size.

Adding 'spare' or redundant connections to brain circuits can, in fact, boost learning performance. However, it was also found that if each new pathway adds 'noise' to the signal it transmits, the overall gain in learning performance will eventually be lost as a circuit increases in size.

So?!

7. Women can't handle high positions.

WS: Angela_Merkel  ( German Chancellor) are you listening (she was a scientist before becoming the head of a country!?

Kirsty Duncan, Canada's first Minister of Science 's a scientist herself!

8. Women are highly organized, giving us a headache. 

WS: You cannot multi-task unless you are organized. However, our scientific brains are as messy as any other brains in the labs.

9. Women can never be polymaths.

WS: Don't forget that you are dealing with one right now!

10. Multitasking is bad because women can do it more efficiently!

There’s contradictory evidence on this one. For part one of the myth – about how women can multi-task whereas men can’t – one study from China has endorsed women’s superiority, whereas a Swedish study claimed the opposite.

The theory behind this supposed ability is based on pseudo-science. Evolutionary theories claim that women have evolved to be better able to juggle tasks (caring for children while stirring food for instance), whereas men need focus to hunt animals for the pot.

Hard to prove this theory. 

Part two of the myth says multi-tasking is bad for you anyway. University of Glasgow’s Dr Stoet claims that filtering out distractions helps us achieve more. Several commentators think that multi-tasking is killing productivity.

Tim Harford thinks the opposite. The FT writer and BBC broadcaster concludes that real breakthroughs come from being messy, and doing many things at once, not from focussing on one thing. Multi-tasking helps us synthesise more than one idea, and synthesis is where genius lies. The future of strategy lies, in fact, in this.

Harford writes in Messy about a series of creative geniuses including Jane Austin, Charles Darwin and Nobel laureates who all worked on more than one project at once and picked up another subject when they were stuck in something, which helped them become unstuck. A large number of Nobel Prize winning scientists switched fields entirely on their journey to Stockholm.

If you happen to be happy to multi-task, ladies, resist those around you that tell you off about it.

If you can agree with these criteria:

  • Doing two things at once means that I am better at both of them.
  • Creating art does not mean that I am not paying attention to science.
  • I deliver original and valuable ideas to my team.
  • I do six things at a time but still can complete all of them! 

Then go ahead, mythbust. Prove the singleminded, focussed, hunters out there wrong every time.

And I am determined to bust this, gentlemen, by multi-tasking all the time. Even if I make mistakes and become messy most of the time. I can multi-task. Period!

How silly some 'intelligence' can get!

 
A few unbiased scientists have been researching issues of gender and STEM (science, technology engineering and math) for more than 25 years. We can say flatly that there is no evidence that women’s biology makes them incapable of performing at the highest levels in any STEM fields.

Of the various rationales for sex-segregated education, the claim that boys and girls should be taught in separate classrooms because their brains differ is arguably the weakest. Existing neuroscience research has identified few reliable differences between boys’ and girls’ brains relevant to learning or education.


Many reputable scientific authorities have weighed in on this question, including a major paper in the journal Science debunking the idea that the brains of males and females are so different that they should be educated in single-sex classrooms. The paper was written by eight prominent neuroscientists, headed by professor Diane Halpern of Claremont McKenna College, past president of the American Psychological Association. They argue that “There is no well-designed research showing that single-sex education improves students’ academic performance, but there is evidence that sex segregation increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutional sexism.”
Lise Eliot, associate professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School, did an exhaustive review of the scientific literature on human brains from birth to adolescence. She concluded, in her book “Pink Brain, Blue Brain,” that there is “surprisingly little solid evidence of sex differences in children’s brains.” This is complete nonsense and pseudo-science at its worst.

The widely held belief that boys are naturally better than girls at math and science is unraveling among serious scientists. Evidence is mounting that girls are every bit as competent as boys in these areas. Psychology professor Janet Hyde of the University of Wisconsin–Madison has strong U.S. data showing no meaningful differences in math performance among more than seven million boys and girls in grades 2 through 12.

Also, several large-scale international testing programs find girls closing the gender gap in math, and in some cases outscoring the boys. Clearly, this huge improvement over a fairly short time period argues against biological explanations.

 There is a book “The Essential Difference” that says boys are biologically programmed to focus on objects, predisposing them to math and understanding systems, while girls are programmed to focus on people and feelings. A British psychologist, Baron-Cohen, claims that the male brain is the “systematizing brain” while the female brain is the “empathizing” brain.This idea was based on a study of day-old babies, which found that the boys looked at mobiles longer and the girls looked at faces longer. Male brains, the psychologist says, are ideally suited for leadership and power. They are hardwired for mastery of hunting and tracking, trading, achieving and maintaining power, gaining expertise, tolerating solitude, using aggression and taking on leadership roles. The female brain, on the other hand, is specialized for making friends, mothering, gossip and “reading” a partner. Girls and women are so focused on others, he says, that they have little interest in figuring out how the world works.

But Baron-Cohen’s study had major problems. It was an “outlier” study. No one else has replicated these findings, including Baron-Cohen himself. It is so flawed as to be almost meaningless. Why?


Stress and anxiety are personality traits inherent in females, men say, but more likely they are due to the pressures and discrimination women face on the job that men do not. For example, a 2008 report sponsored by major companies, “The Athena Factor,” found that women in high positions in male-dominated fields, such as tech, suffer harsher penalties than men when they slip up. Women don’t get second chances. Men do.

A  study from Moss-Racusin and colleagues, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2). The experiment was a variation on the classic name-swapping CV studies (see Valian's book for more on these) which have been used to show that, given an identical bogus CV, people
are more likely to prefer candidates if a male name is printed on the top. This randomised, double-blind experiment was performed on 127 scientific faculty from "research-intensive universities" in the US.

 A woman's resume may look exactly like his, but because her name is Mary and not John, she may not get a second look. A review of studies of U.S. decision makers who have the power to hire candidates found that clearly competent men were rated higher than equally competent women. This bias is especially rampant in the high-tech industry. One study, conducted by professors at Columbia, Northwestern and the University of Chicago, found that two-thirds of managers selected male job candidates, even when the men did not perform as well as the women on math problems that were part of the application process.

Science professors at American universities widely regard female undergraduates as less competent than male students with the same accomplishments and skills, a new study by researchers at Yale concluded. Document: Qualifications Vs. Gender

Throw in the facts that, according to research, competent men are seen as likeable, while competent women are seen as bitchy, that women get less credit for their accomplishments than men do, that men are often promoted on promise while women get elevated only on the basis of performance, and that sexual harassment is a constant problem for women in tech.

All of these are issues that males simply do not have to face. The “anxiety gap” exists for a reason, and it is not about biology.

Women are good at certain things because they were told to do only certain things since ages. And 're discouraged to do other things that belong to what some people call 'blue brains'.  The average differences between men and women were generally small when set against the large degree of overlap between the sexes, and that, where the differences were at their greatest, they were heavily influenced by the roles that society asks each of us to play.  But it is still the differences that make the headlines, not the reasons underlying them.
A growing number of scientists, mostly the ladies in the labs,  are challenging the pseudo-science of “neurosexism”, as they call it, and are raising concerns about its implications. And they are making sincere efforts to demolish it. Need I add 'succeeding to a great extent' too?

By the way all live brains, even those of men, look like this:

A shade of Pink!

( In reality the living, pulsing brain currently residing in your skull isn't just a dull, bland gray; it's also white, black and red. The whiteness - and other colours - mixed with red colour of the blood gives it  some sort of pinkish hue)

Watch this video that shows how a live brain looks like ...  

References:

1. http://retractionwatch.com/2015/04/29/its-a-mans-world-for-one-peer...

2.  C. A. Moss-Racusin et al. Science faculty's subtle gender biases
favor male students. Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences
USA, 2012 ; published ahead of print September 17, 2012,
doi:10.1073/pnas.1211286109

3. I. E. Sommer et alBrain Res. 1206, 76–88; 2008.

4. Neurosexism: Brains, Gender and Tech, by Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett

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