Blargh Blog

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Studying Sex Differences

In today's politically "correct" society, is it possible for scientists to study cognitive differences between males and females and to discuss their hypotheses in an open and intelligent public conversation? It sure looks like it.

Here's how the linked discussion has played out so far. Simon Baron-Cohen* described his theory of systemizers vs. empathizers and presented evidence for the hypothesis that fetal testosterone levels affect people's tendency to systemize or empathize, with autistics located at the extreme systemizing end of the spectrum. Replies, including comments by four Harvard social scientists (two of them female), have come from various interesting perspectives. Some of the commenters are concerned about the limited amount of evidence that Baron-Cohen presents and possible alternative explanations for his results, and some wonder how the hypothesized "increased systemizing" effect of testosterone relates to the sex hormone's other known effects (like increased confidence and aggressiveness), but I don't see anyone dismissing the idea of sex differences. It looks to me like an example of good science in progress.

* In case you're wondering, he is a first cousin of Sacha Baron-Cohen (aka Ali-G).


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