There is Nothing Wrong with Women's Brains

This essay is presented here (for now) in draft form, as I am seeking help and information from friends to finish it off. Caution! Bill gates spell checker has passed this way. This draft might contain spellings that would not be suitable for the final form.

On Saturday 12th March 2005, the "Science Show" carried an item with the title "What is wrong with women's brains". It seems that some senior person in one of the big american universities (maybe it was Harvard) had asked this question and caused quite a Brouhaha. Various people had raised such a kafuffle that the man had had to apologize.

It is easy to look at societies of the past and see that people had ideas that were fixed in their culture and that blinded them to greater truths. An example is the notion that it was within the realm of religion to hamper work on biology by such men as Thomas Henry Huxley and Charles Darwin. Their contemporary, Richard Owen (inventor of the word "dinosaur"), like many others, applied religious blinkers to himself. It is easy to scoff at our predescessors but much more difficult to see how the culture of this day is restricting us in our thinking.

Unfortunately, one of our cultural norms is to not think clearly. Public debate becomes restricted as soon as the arguments become too complex to portray in a 30 second TV ad to people who's attention is on other things.

Recently, a medical research result was announced on the news. I do not remember the details clearly: perhaps it touched on hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer. The announcement took the form that a widespread and useful treatment caused a significant increase in some other ailment. Let us say it was a 24% increase. The ailment in question affected a very small number if people. Don't remember the figure. let us say 1%

As we don't have the actual figures (they have no bearing on my argument, anyway) we will run with my assumed ones. The information we had been given amounted to this: the ailment frequency changed from 1% to 1.24%. That is what a 24% increase means. There was wide spread alarm, as many listeners thought that they had been informed that the ailment frequency was 24%. A subsequent news bulletin apologized for a confusingly worded report. There was no confusingly worded report. The meaning was very clear to all except those who don't have a good grasp of English and the very stupid. Unfortunately this class who I will dub "very stupid" wield huge power. We are not allowed to make public statements if they can be imagined to be something else altogether that might upset or alarm.

This leads to censorship and to self censorship.

On the same day, the death of comedian Dave Allan was announced. In a brief biography, the television news mentioned that he had been banned from the Australian Media at one time because he had mentioned masturbation. I hadn't known that, but I can remember the days when we were not allowed to mention masturbation. How was information about masturbation disseminated in those days? It wasn't, except in a clandestine sort of way where information was not necessarily reliable. (I now wear reading glasses, but it is not too great a burden.). It was obvious at the time that an arbitrary and silly convention was blocking information flow. In the Concise Oxford Dictionary, Henry Fowler couldn't even bring himself to define masturbation honestly. He wrote that it was to "practice self abuse". How informative is that?

It seems to me that when our Harvard man makes a comment about women's brains, the twittering classes cannot bear to bring their brains into focus about what he actually said, and they are imposing arbitrary and silly and obfuscating rules.

Many of them are people who, driven by a strong sense of justice, rail against unfair discrimination. I am with them in their cause, but they need to listen harder to see whether a matter has any bearing on that cause.

I am going to set up a little thought experiment. Reader, in our minds, I am going to choose two ways of dividing the Australian population into two. In both, I am going to pick you out and assign you especially. In both I am going to put all Australians (apart from you) that are above average intelligence in one group, and all those who are below average intelligence in the other group. In my first way of dividing the population up, I put you in the first group, and in the second way, I put you in the second group.

Consider the Australian population divided up the first way. I can say to you that your group is more intelligent than the other. Does this make you feel good?

Now consider the Australian population divided up the second way. Your group members are Dumb! How do you feel about that?

In the previous two paragraphs, (The thought experiment continues) what have I said about your intelligence. Nothing! (The thought experiment ends.)

To reduce wordiness, and to introduce my line of thinking in a step by step fashion, I made the above thought experiment overly simple. Imagine if we complicated it a bit. Perhaps we could make the division between the two groups a bit more fuzzy. Perhaps the two groups could both encompass people with intelligence over the full range, but on average, one group might have a higher intelligence than the other. You might imagine (although I am not asserting this) that this is the sort of division of the population you might get if the first group were all the people with tertiary education and the second group all those without.

As far as the range of intelligence catered for in each group is concerned, you could be a member of either of them. In one case, it could be said that your group is more intelligent, and in the other, it could be said that your group is less intelligent. Again, this says nothing about your own intelligence.

When we move from thought experiment to the real world, and want to apply out thinking to real world problems, we have to take care of complications such as exactly what we mean by "intelligence". That is not relevant to my discussion, which might apply with many possible definitions of intelligence, or even to attributes other than intelligence, but it is important to remember that such considerations are necessary.

What if the frequency distribution of intelligence for males and the frequency distribution of intelligence for females are not identical? I am not saying that they are, or that they're not. It is clear that whether they are distinct or not, the two curves overlap. We all know a man who is more intelligent that some woman we know, and we all know a woman who is more intelligent than a man we know.

If the frequency distributions are different, what does this tell us about the intelligence of a particular person of either sex? Nothing.

If someone assumes that the frequency distributions are different, is this assumption the application of an unfair prejudice? The answer to that is not clear.

Sexual dimorphism is almost universal in the animal kingdom, and appears in the plant kingdom as well. The exceptions are hermaphrodytes. The hermaphrodites do not overcome the differences of the sexes, but embrace them by having each individual carrying the physical characteristics (morphs) of both sexes.

Hand in hand with differences in physical form (morph) go differences in behaviour (ethos).I am not coining a new word, but using a rare one when I assert that sexual diethism is almost universal in the animal kingdom. There are certain rules about (to quote the limerick) "who does what and with which and to whom" if it is going to work properly.

The extent or pervasiveness of sexual diethism in our species is subject for legitimate debate and analysis. Once facts are gathered, then debate that goes on without reference to that gathering work is no longer legitimate debate. A lot more is known about this than was known a century ago, and there is surely a lot more to be known.

Whatever the facts about this are, they are evolved characteristics of our species. The facts carry no moral position with them. Any belief on this subject that is based on a political stance, or on a religious stance is not a legitimate position in any quest to understand our species better or to make rules for ourselves to eliminate or minimize unfair prejudice.