Xconomy Bookclub: “Inferior” Peruses Science’s Historic #MeToo Bias

Xconomy National — 

In his now infamous memo, ex-Google engineer James Damore cited scientific evidence to illustrate why women may not be suited for jobs at some of today’s leading tech companies.

Women, he argued, are biologically more attuned to “people” jobs rather than “thing” jobs, like those in technology. But what Damore was doing, others pointed out, was cherry-picking science that he found agreed with his already-established world view.

Science, it turns out, can be very subjective, depending on how results are used and the biases held by the researcher at the outset. Frequently, those biases have worked against women— both as professionals in academia and through inadequate health care. That’s the subject of “Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong—and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story” by science writer Angela Saini.

Saini argues that it’s been the scientific process itself—or more specifically, the scientists who follow that process—that has helped reinforce stereotypes like those described by Damore. But “decades of rigorous testing of girls and boys confirm that there are few psychological differences between the sexes, and that the differences seen are heavily shaped by culture, not biology,” Saini writes.

“Inferior” attempts to discover how our attitudes toward the sexes have evolved by looking at scientific literature over the past 200 or so years. Saini seeks out gender studies in in biology, neuroscience, anthropology, and evolutionary psychology to try to understand how women became regarded as inferior among the sexes.

“The sexism of science coincided with the professionalism of science,” Saini writes. “It’s impossible not to expect that the very bias that kept women out of science for centuries might have affected the very blood and bones of their work.”

Consider Charles Darwin. He of course helped people gain a better understanding of human evolution, but his views on women were definitely retrograde. Saini points to correspondence between Darwin and Caroline Kennard, a Boston-area woman who was a women’s rights activist in 1881. “The chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shewn[cq] by man attaining to a higher eminence—whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands,” Darwin writes in “The Descent of Man.”

Certainly, there were women scientists who persevered in … Next Page »

Single PageCurrently on Page: 1 2