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Sex differences in science

clh at vax.oxford.ac.uk clh at vax.oxford.ac.uk
Thu May 6 04:49:58 EST 1993

In article <1993May4.115656.7208 at mcclb0.med.nyu.edu>, 
madsen at mcclb0.med.nyu.edu (LISA M. MADSEN) writes:
> The basic concept that women and men do science differently is sexist
> dogma.  In my experience the only sexual dimorphism in science is not
> at the level of intrinsic characteristics but is due to the scientific
> societies' view of the role of women.  

My initial reaction to this was "The assertion that there is no 
difference between the way women and men do science is dogma".
Presumably it's one of those points open to investigation, rather than 
an open and shut case, either way?

I do agree that a lot of the assertions about differences between men 
and women scientists are made by non-scientists and smack of sexist 
dogma, in the "women are better than men anyway" vein. And 
traditionally there have been a lot of arguments that women are 
inherently worse at science, that it was a waste to educate them in 
it, and that in fact it spoiled them for their real purpose in life 
(bearing children and being a good wife). There's always a danger that 
any discussion of differences will lead to the popular belief that 
women are just worse at science, since men by default are doing it the 
_right_ way. And any such assertion is going to be unfair to some men 
and women, who are unusual for their gender. There's always a danger 
that people interpret overall population trends as descriptive of all 

On the other hand, it seems plausible that some differences might 
exist. There's lots of research into different patterns of 
communication by men and women, and communication is a part of 
science. Girls and boys are treated differently from birth and bathed 
in different hormones; I'm not claiming nature or nurture (it's bound 
to be both, anyway). The assertion that we would be indistinguishable 
seems stranger to me.

And there are ways in which science done by a sub-class of people in 
isolation is bound to leave out some perspectives of people outside of 
that class. If nothing else, women are not male, and in that alone may 
provide a different slant on scientific culture. In animal behaviour 
and psychology there are obvious ways in which human perspectives 
creep into research, both in the hypotheses addressed and in the 
conclusions which are passed through peer review. Kohler's assertion 
that women just don't reach the highest level of moral reasoning, for 
example, would probably have gotten more flack (!) if there were more 
powerful women in the field at the time! 


Chris Hitchcock			clh at vax.ox.ac.uk
EGI, Dept of Zoology
South Parks Road		formerly: chris at psych.toronto.edu	
Oxford OX1 3PS			Still reading UseNet 
ENGLAND				for the signatures.

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