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Sex differences in functional connectivity during fetal brain development (sciencedirect.com)
86 points by dschuetz 11 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 131 comments





Can someone (likely younger than me) explain to me why the concept of gender-associated cognitive differences has become so controversial, and why the “blank slate hypothesis” is the only one considered acceptable? This was an entirely different story when I was in college.

90% of all nurses are women, does that mean that 100% of the difference (from the 50/50 ideal-world gendersplit assumption) are men purely socialized not to do that?

I have no interest in sports, yet 90+% of men seem to, but I kinda get it, it makes sense to me that most men would be into that.

And then we get to programming, and raw interest in mechanisms... and possible correlations to gender with that, and all hell breaks loose.

Have all the “monkeys prefer gender-stereotypical human toys” studies been discredited? You can’t IMHO use the socialization argument there: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2583786/

Happy to hear anyone out on this though.


There are two main reasons I’m aware of. First, a certain kind of person tries to make a deeply sexist argument and reaches for “science” to back it up. The overall experience with that kind of thing is profoundly negative, and it has a pretty grim history, so there are strong reactions to it. It’s true that well-intentioned people do ask uncomfortable questions, but especially online they’re dwarfed by trolls and people arguing in bad faith. All told this isn’t an insurmountable problem, and more and better research can help to shine some light on the issue. It’s also not impossible to determine whether or not someone is pushing a predetermined agenda and using a given study (while ignoring others) as a bludgeon.

The second, radioactive topic centers around trans people. I’m not going to touch that topic with a 10 foot pole, because online the discussion rarely develops more nuance than mysticism dressed up as science on one side, and bigotry dressed up as “common sense” arguments on the other. All told it makes for a difficult topic to discuss in good faith, absent agendas on or offline, but online it’s pure poison.


Granted, but should 'purpose' of a scientific research project or conclusion, you know, matter? If the science is bad, it won't get published or it will get published and destroyed.

Why should politics get in the way of our accumulation of data?

Get the data first, worry about interpretations after that. The moral question should not block / impede the inquiry of a topic and quest for more data. Perhaps, with the possible exception of some superweapon or bio weapon research?

Didn't we learn anything at all from the grim history of religious authorities impeding scientific inquiry because the conclusions were uncomfortable?

What exactly is going on in the last 5 or so years that we've decided to spurn Reason?


Because data is subject to political interpretation, and while we'd all like to believe that science is noble, objective, and utterly dispassionate, it really isn't - especially not in the social sciences.

You only have to look at the history of "research" into economics, or race and IQ, or genetics and psychology to see how this works.

It isn't even particularly dispassionate in physics. There's a huge amount of politics involved in deciding which ideas and hypotheses in fundamental physics get time, money, and PhD candidates, and which are considered "the wrong choice for a successful career."

So it is not true that if the science is bad it won't get published. A huge amount of very bad science has been published, and some of it has been used to influence public policy.

I can't think of anything that works better than science, but that doesn't mean I'm willing to treat it as a stand-in for religious infallibility.

Objective insight is a constant struggle against external influences, internal biases, and political conflicts of all kinds. It's not something you get for free from science by pushing a magic button and waiting for Revealed Truth to come out.


The problem is somewhat recursive. Ideally, politics wouldn't get in the way of accumulating the data. Ideally, unverified data would stay out of our public/institutional/organizational decision-making processes until the dust has settled (studies reproduced, methodologies fully critiqued, synthesized into frameworks that square large amounts of high-quality data, frameworks withstand decades of counter-proposals and attempts at falsification...).

But it doesn't really work like that. If the results sound salacious, they'll get picked up in the science/popular press. Someone else might destroy it later, but no one's going to update every PDF, abstract and bit of news coverage to note it was destroyed. Even if the destroyal is so salacious that everyone trying to use the result as a buttress for their favorite ideological/policy positions sees it, they have to have the intellectual integrity to stop trying to use it that way. And people they're using it on have to be curious enough and capable of finding out that it's been destroyed.

(To be clear; I don't think this means we should avoid researching uncomfortable/controversial topics.)


I don't think the controversy you're describing exists in the academic world, at least not in the neuroscience field (that I can partially attest to). That controversy you're describing just exists in popular culture. It's not inhibiting any scientists I have ever worked with or for.

It's not inhibiting any scientists I have ever worked with or for.

It is inhibiting scientists from communicating with the public. Tenured professors in the field are fearful or hesitant to do this now. Some professors are being actively targeted.

Many members of the public have highly distorted views of the science. In only the past two years, I've heard more times than I can count on the digits of all of my limbs, from well educated professionals, that all gender differences are the result of a patriarchal conspiracy.


Well, maybe I should walk back my comment a bit. I haven't worked in academia for a half decade or so. The topic may have become hotter than I imagined from where it was. I don't know. And point taken about affecting communication with the public. That is sort of outside my perspective. Academia always felt super insular to me and that scope was beyond anything I ever had to deal with.

Just today, another story surfaced of a professor targeted for writing a reasonable contrarian view. His office door was vandalized, and a mob assembled. (Some would call this a "protest" but given the mild pretext and the problematic implementation and its disconnection from philosophically sound principles, I would call it more of a mob.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60w0DZX5-SM

This sort of thing seems to surface every month or so now. The field of evolutionary biology seems to be targeted in particular. Many of the targeted professors report that many of their colleagues offer them support in private, but dare not speak up in public for fear of also being targeted -- even tenured ones. In some cases, it looks like unverifiable accusations of sexual misconduct are being weaponized for this purpose. Trigger warnings and microaggressions and the like seem to be a favorite weapon to be used against professors.

During the Evergreen protests, students were marauding campus with baseball bats, looking for professor Bret Weinstein. More disturbingly, he was frozen out by most of the mainstream press, who only began covering him when their silence became deafening.


I have 0 desire to engage in a protracted debate on Hacker News, so I will not respond to any specific aspect of this post with the traditional fisk-and-rant format. Instead, I'd like to encourage any reader who chances upon this thread subsequently to scrutinize this post carefully, because it attempts to suggest multiple equivalencies that I feel are not only inappropriate for the discussion at hand, but suggest a rather stark worldview.

In particular, there was lots of press coverage on the Evergreen event and any observer can go and read a variety of perspectives on it. It's also worth noting that Evergreen was an extremely unusual style of university, and as such already had a lot of interesting customs. Suggesting that Prof. Weinstein's protesting of white people also having a venue to participate in a longstanding tradition of a black student walkout is somehow relevant to conversation about biological gender differences is chilling, because it raises the question if in this poster's mind there are relevant biological racial differences. Is this poster asking us to take a careless leap between questioning biological differences of the sexes to biological differences between races? If not, why are nearly all examples given in reference to an issue about race relations?

Similarly, one can investigate the claim that conservative professors and students are unfairly targeted. The numbers there are interesting, but don't tell a convincing story. You can also investigate the implication that conservative and traditionalist students are treated unfairly is not well supported by the numbers.

Finally, one need only look towards the career advancements and growing department sizes of evolutionary biology to see that they're actually doing fine. Evolutionary Psychologists are having a hard time, but they're also facing many challenges actually demonstrating consistently testable predictions (as is the larger field, as statistical expertise becomes more normalized in the field).

You shouldn't trust links provided in threads like this, particularly on this website. They're often carefully selected (and I say this in a non-partisan fashion; everyone does it). You're much better off investigating these things organically.


Suggesting that Prof. Weinstein's protesting of white people also having a venue to participate in a longstanding tradition of a black student walkout is somehow relevant to conversation about biological gender differences is chilling

This is typical of this sort of namecalling and sinister association. A demonstration against racial exclusion which itself uses racial exclusion is obviously problematic. What I've seen time and time again, is that the purpose of such comments is to get as many people to "move along" and not look further. People of good conscience who are passionate about the truth need to look into these things, be forthright, and not be cowed. If tenured professors effectively no longer have freedom of speech, there is something going dramatically wrong in our society.

Similarly, one can investigate the claim that conservative professors and students are unfairly targeted. The numbers there are interesting, but don't tell a convincing story

The fact that tenured professors feel trepidation about speaking out should raise serious concerns in our society. The fact that the mainstream press basically buries this stuff should raise serious concern.

Finally, one need only look towards the career advancements and growing department sizes of evolutionary biology to see that they're actually doing fine.

Bret Weinstein focuses on evolutionary biology.

You shouldn't trust links provided in threads like this, particularly on this website. They're often carefully selected (and I say this in a non-partisan fashion; everyone does it). You're much better off investigating these things organically.

Sure. Please investigate this yourself, past the facade presented to us by the mainstream media. Just investigate with this fact in mind: These events are alarming if you look into them, and they are buried by the mainstream media. This is the most significant meta-level fact, and it's an alarming one to think about.


> any observer can go and read a variety of perspectives on it

Never heard of the controversy and the link went to a low quality video blog, which was also rather loud, so I did what you suggested and went and checked other sources since I wanted to know what the evergreen + Weinstein controversy was all about.

"Once a year, Evergreen State University (located just outside of Seattle), allows the students of colour to take a day of absence, so that their importance and contribution is felt at the University. Bret Weinstein, as a progressive, was and has been on board for this for a long time.

A year ago, they flipped the logic. Rather than telling people of colour to stay away for the day, they told white people that they are not welcome on campus for a day. Absence wasn’t compulsory, but highly recommended."

Those two paragraph tells me everything I need to know. stcredzero is commenting on the political climate in academia. Not a comment about racial differences, nor race relations, but about the politics in academia.

If this was gender politics it would look like this:

Experiment 1: A day that allows women and only women to take day of absence from daycare, so that their importance and contribution is felt.

Experiment 2: A day that declare that men are not welcome at daycare.

Could anyone imagine either of those experiment going well? Imagine for completeness if we also did the same for a male dominated profession. I could not even imagine such social experiment getting a pass of approval from an ethical board, and I can't find any reference that evergreen requested one.


> "Once a year, Evergreen State University (located just outside of Seattle), allows the students of colour to take a day of absence, so that their importance and contribution is felt at the University. Bret Weinstein, as a progressive, was and has been on board for this for a long time.

There is a jarring and confusing change in character between the paragraph above and below this comment. You went from a "this is optional" clause to a "you should stay away." Your narration injected this, and did so clumsily. Is this because you're citing two sources?

> A year ago, they flipped the logic. Rather than telling people of colour to stay away for the day, they told white people that they are not welcome on campus for a day. Absence wasn’t compulsory, but highly recommended."

Firstly: nothing about this practice was compulsory and nothing about this practice was universal. Professors knew about the original walkout tradition and scheduled around it, but that was the extent of it. Not all students who were people of color participated. They were not "told to stay away."

Nor were white students told to "stay away." What actually happened was some white people asked how they could participate, and so a group of students set up a separate group of workshops. This was very small scale, but the folks involved liked it. So the next year, it was proposed that there was a possible track for this to be supported by the school. It was not a "not welcome" declaration, it was a proposal to change a tradition. Brett Weinstein took exception to it.

What followed subsequently was a series of predictable escalations by the usual extremist subjects, with non-students from alt-right groups showing up in "support" and antifa showing up to "counter" them. Because Evergreen is essentially a small non-traditional state university, they were just not prepared for this scale of action and national attention. Even with this, these were nothing like the Berkeley demonstrations. Injuries were limited, property damage was low, and actually all groups were moderated by the student body.

The attempt to tie this to "suppression" of Weinstein's academic work is absurd, because nothing about any of this relates to that body of work. He took a political and ethical position completely unrelated to his work and then got involved in a controversy about it. Being a scientist with political opinions doesn't mean your political opinions are necessarily right or immune to scrutiny. If he wants to stick to science, he should have (and could have) done that. He didn't like an optional white walkout day that was done in solidarity with PoC, and he said so, and that had consequences.


There is a jarring and confusing change in character between the paragraph above and below this comment. You went from a "this is optional" clause to a "you should stay away." Your narration injected this, and did so clumsily. Is this because you're citing two sources?

No. The character of the protest did explicitly change in this way.

What followed subsequently was a series of predictable escalations by the usual extremist subjects, with non-students from alt-right groups showing up in "support" and antifa showing up to "counter" them. Because Evergreen is essentially a small non-traditional state university, they were just not prepared for this scale of action and national attention.

It's easy to find the videos of the students holding the administration captive. Especially telling are the idiotic things they're yelling. It's easy to find the videos of the students confronting Bret Weinstein. Especially telling are the idiotic things those students are yelling.

The attempt to tie this to "suppression" of Weinstein's academic work is absurd

You're being needlessly specific, or not reading carefully. I mentioned "communicating with the public." In Weinstein's case, he started out communicating with colleagues. Effectively, he was "un-personed" with the protesting students used as muscle to make him and his wife feel unsafe. In Weinstein's case, there isn't suppression of academic work. In this case, it's the suppression of an academic.

There's one kind of person in history who goes around intimidating academics for holding reasonable opinions. (Or even correct ones, as in this case.) Those are the villains.


There is clearly a difference of opinion in the different reporting about what the school actually did. You did ask me to look up multiple independent sources.

The whole thing however looks like a terrible idea from the start and the "change" even worse. A school should not give day of absence to people based on gender, race or skin color, nor should a school support the idea to encourage people to stay away if that was what the "group of students" suggested. A school should do everything they can do in order to make students feel like they want to be at school, and doing social experiments where they encourage/permit students to not go to school (if that was what the original concept behind the walkout tradition) is a terrible idea. This is, as I mentioned earlier, why board of ethics exist.

The thing Evergreen State University should have done is do a public statement that all students regardless of race is welcome and wanted every single day, every week of the year. End of story, end of controversy, just a plain explicit message. No walk out, no white students opting to not go to school, just plain school where everyone is welcome. Then they would not have different political media platforms giving different narratives of what did or did not happen.


Suggesting that Prof. Weinstein's protesting of white people also having a venue to participate in a longstanding tradition of a black student walkout is somehow relevant to conversation about biological gender differences is chilling, because it raises the question if in this poster's mind there are relevant biological racial differences. Is this poster asking us to take a careless leap between questioning biological differences of the sexes to biological differences between races? If not, why are nearly all examples given in reference to an issue about race relations?

Look, I don't know what was in the poster's mind. However, it seems the common theme you picked out (biological differences of the sexes and a dangerous leap to racial differences) is one common theme. If you hadn't said anything, I was assuming the poster's comparison here was to show that we're targeting academics with dissenting opinions. Whether that's correct or incorrect is worthy of debate, fine, but your interpretation was particularly ominous.

Edit: and perhaps manipulatively so. If something is ambiguous, why not ask rather than assume? There's an unfortunate epidemic of people who know other people better than other people know themselves.


your interpretation was particularly ominous

This is the typical strategy. Bret Weinstein, who is Jewish and who made a potentially career-risking stand for civil rights many years back was castigated as a "sellout" and even as a "white supremacist." The truth is, that Bret Weinstein is, as far as I know, a progressive.

I was a lifelong Democratic party voter. I'm non-white. I've advocated for awareness of racism and bigotry since before there was a world wide web. If you try to tell a mob that using the word "oriental" doesn't warrant a rural middle school teacher losing her job, and suggest she's a human being who should be given the benefit of the doubt and try talking to her instead, this is enough to get you called a "white supremacist." And that is just one example among many for me, personally.

The fringe Far Left has hijacked the agenda of the political left as a whole, and is using these ominous authoritarian name-calling and scare tactics to silence dissent. On campus and in the street, this has even manifested as assault and violence -- on behalf of the left. Something is very wrong there.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bz0oxIZ3xIg

We people of good conscience who have seen it need to start speaking up and calling this out. For those of you for whom this is new, then just try an experiment. Ask some reasonable but hard questions. Push boundaries, but only in an intellectual sense. See what reaction you get. See if you recognize the spoor of authoritarianism.


> Look, I don't know what was in the poster's mind. However, it seems the common theme you picked out (biological differences of the sexes and a dangerous leap to racial differences) is one common theme. If you hadn't said anything, I was assuming the poster's comparison here was to show that we're targeting academics with dissenting opinions.

I am simply aware of the larger context. The reason I made that leap was because Weinstein himself has said things to this effect. But also, because of the particular framing of the Evergreen Protests (which saw arguments across the political and social spectrum) as a dangerous pack of leftists wielding baseball bats stalking the campus (which is a hotly contested claim). Faculty who were there and had their offices occupied as part of the specificallu leftist protests do not consistently report

And quite frankly? It doesn't stand out in American politics at all. We've been rioting as part of political discourse since before the Constitution's ink was dry.

But presenting the event in that way leads an informed reader to wonder if there is are other inaccuracies.

Look at the poster's responses closely for a clear and logical refutation. I think the absence of anything other than "it's name calling and that's what they do" is not a very powerful way to dismiss these concerns. Someone genuinely interested in setting the record straight would probably do it differently

Am I "the far left?" I don't know. I'm a successful fintech founder postexit, so it's pretty tough for me to look credible to that crowd. If I were, would simply naming me as such actually be a valid answer to the concern I raised?


And quite frankly? It doesn't stand out in American politics at all.

Because the mainstream press wants the public to move along and not pay too much attention.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pf5fAiXYr08

But presenting the event in that way leads an informed reader to wonder if there is are other inaccuracies.

I'm sincerely hoping that people will look into different coverage of Evergreen. Really, it speaks for itself. Your description of "Antifa blocking" speaks to your bias. I know from personal experience that not all Antifa are toxic thugs who lack any philosophical basis apart from "might makes right." I also know from personal experience that many are, and it's very telling how those who wear those colors who know better don't call them out. I have no idea how an informed person could support them. The only thing they have going for them is that Nazis are worse than they are. As I mention above, many of them will even outright tell you that it's their guiding philosophy.

History has many examples of people trying to intimidate others politically. Some wear masks. Others think their special status shields them. Over time, we all know them as villains.



It's a book review of a popular science book.

> What exactly is going on in the last 5 or so years that we've decided to spurn Reason?

It's not just the last 5 years - if "human biodiversity" turns out to be accurate (HBD could be summarized as "almost all human traits, including intelligence, have genetic components, and different population groups may have different distributions of these traits" or more simply "some population groups are better runners, some are better swimmers, some are more intelligent") and there's a fair bit of evidence for it... Well, we've been suppressing that particular shitstorm for the past 20+ years, largely due to the repugnant conclusions it can lead to, and the kind of person trying to lead us there.


You seem to have read something in my post that wasn’t there, namely that I was suggesting some kind of restriction on research, rather than what I did say, which was the need for more research. I can only guess how you interpreted my post in such a way.

> I can only guess how you interpreted my post in such a way.

Hey, man. Insinuation/assumption. This is exactly the sort of remark that quickly toxifies the discussion. Keep it rational.


That wasn’t my intention, I just meant that I didn’t understand the reasoning, not to infer something sinister.

Ah. I've seen wording like that from people trying to insinuate that the person has a racist/sexist worldview that they're either covering up or trying to intellectually rationalize. Or as a subtle dig on their intelligence. :)

> Why should politics get in the way of our accumulation of data?

Great question. Unrelatedly, mind if I correlate your medical history and a genetic profile of you with your purchase history at three major retail chains and the contents of your inbox? I'm not intending to do anything special with it; I'm just accumulating data.

(... everything has a political dimension, including data accumulation. Because ultimately, humans use the data, and what humans do is politics).


Great question. Unrelatedly, mind if I correlate your medical history and a genetic profile of you with your purchase history at three major retail chains and the contents of your inbox?

Bad point. Violating the privacy of individuals is worlds different from studying gender differences on average.

(... everything has a political dimension, including data accumulation. Because ultimately, humans use the data, and what humans do is politics).

But from that, it can't follow that we should alter the results to avoid hurt feelings. That would render the "data" no better than mythical just-so stories. Politics should be subservient to empirical data and science. We've seen what doing it the other way results in historically.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lysenkoism


Wow how interesting. Seems to drive out of a mindset of despair and blind hope. This seems like a pretty appropriate category for Modern Monetary Theory as well.

TIL of Lysenkoism. Wow. That's a powerful example right there.

One of the first times I mentioned it on HN, the reaction was basically, "Thank you for showing me this right-wing talking point, now I can counteract it." No curiosity about the history. No valuing of knowledge and truth.

This says a lot about our world today.


How is it a right-wing talking point? It's basically pro-science (and to be fair, the right has their anti-global-warmacists and the left has their antivax and antinuclear baseless beliefs)

How is it a right-wing talking point?

Because that's how wacko some of the Far Left have become. Because some of the Far Left would like for there to be something like Lysenkoism forwarding a version of science which explicitly fits their narratives, and for this to be taught to young people. (If you look into it, they basically have a "good start.")


Can you clarify what model some on the Far Left are forwarding that fits their narrative and how it relates to Lysenkoism?

You're loosely defining 'data' here in a totally different context. My context (and the thread) is scientific data. Your context for the same word with the same sound and spelling in English that means a different thing is, personal data.

No, I wasn't referring to collecting your social security number or address for science. We were talking about uncomfortable conclusions in neurology research.


Didn't we learn anything at all from the grim history of religious authorities impeding scientific inquiry because the conclusions were uncomfortable?

No. Many of the same social instincts underpinning religion are now motivating tribal groupthink.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yR7x-tUxyvY


Reason becomes dangerous when you have an agenda to push because. It mandates that there is a source and authority of that reason. Corrupt religion is a very interesting (and true example, because while vocally, a source of reason is acknowledged (God), the control freakishness of corrupt religion, or anything else, makes plain that they have no unwavering trust in anything besides themselves and power. Non-corrupt religion does not display these failings.

> First, a certain kind of person tries to make a deeply sexist argument and reaches for “science” to back it up.

Disclaimer: I've debated racists on Twitter, with moderate success.

I started by presuming that their correlational data wasn't invalid. Then I showed them this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Height_and_intelligence while stating that I couldn't waste time talking to any of them unless they were over 6' (for men) or 5'8" (for women) because going too far below that would be beneath my eminent intelligence as a person who towers at 6'3".

They magically shut up soon after this.

You see, there's a difference between seeing a correlation, and acting on it. Racists want to act on correlations (oppressing nonwhites), but oddly, they wouldn't think the same about oppressing short people, even though that evidence is at least as plain-as-day.

This is all besides the fact that correlational data is weak to begin with.


>There are two main reasons I’m aware of. First, a certain kind of person tries to make a deeply sexist argument and reaches for “science” to back it up. The overall experience with that kind of thing is profoundly negative, and it has a pretty grim history, so there are strong reactions to it.

Whatever certain kind of non-scientific persons do politically should have zero effect on scientific output.

If X is a scientific fact, scientists are not OK to say that it doesn't hold, even if people regularly abuse X.


It seems like the research shows that, pre-transition, a trans person's brain resembles that of the "target" sex more closely than their assigned sex. From what I understand, this effect is more pronounced in trans men than trans women.

You're presupposing sex-based brain differences, which is also taboo.

> It’s true that well-intentioned people do ask uncomfortable questions, but especially online they’re dwarfed by trolls and people arguing in bad faith.

Why is it trolling or arguing "in bad faith" to think that there are inherent differences in gender? The vast majority of people alive today believe this. People who attempt to back up their intuitive knowledge with science seem to be the opposite of trolls. It gets tiresome to have entire swaths of mainstream opinion labeled as "bad faith" (which ironically is bad faith).


You’ve quoted a single sentence out of two paragraphs, and then extrapolated from that fragment something I didn’t actually say. Even putting it in as neutral and fair terms as I could, I should have guessed that anything on this topic would strongly resemble a Rorschach test to some. Please understand that since the thrust of my point was the futility of discussing this online, I’m leaving my response at this.

> People who attempt to back up their intuitive knowledge with science seem to be the opposite of trolls.

Consider the difference between seeing if your intuitions reflect science, and trying to justify your intuitions with science.

If you go looking for information that matches parts of your internal biases, can you reasonably say you would change your mind if you found information that conflicted your view? What if ten articles out of twenty reflected your view? What if one article out of twenty reflected your view? I think you should reread the portion of their comment about using science as a cudgel to see why it can be bad to consider intuition the guiding principle of research.


I think part of healthy debate (and its true value) is that the person with opposing views would also present science and data to back up their argument. Instead what we get is an instant fall back to "trolls, arguing in bad faith...". If you have data or research that backs up your position, you definitely should post it and compare it to any other data that comes from the opposing view.

And yes, I would change my mind if I was presented with credible evidence.


Because people who do so often ignore that variance is non-zero. Such as your comment, which makes no mention of it and focuses on mean differences. There's a lot more to the distribution of random variables.

Yes! People are each individuals. Just because the standard distribution of one group is slightly shifted one way or the other from the standard distribution of another group, doesn't allow you to say anything useful about the differences of individuals. Yes, there is a difference on average, but the overlap is way bigger than the difference.

Actually, I found evidence on my own that the overlap is bigger than the difference.

Want to know the absolutely delicious irony, here? I saw it in James Damore's memo.


> Yes, there is a difference on average, but the overlap is way bigger than the difference

Unless you have evidence to back this up, it sounds an awful lot like a "mere belief"


It’s true that well-intentioned people do ask uncomfortable questions, but especially online they’re dwarfed by trolls and people arguing in bad faith.

Then isn't it incumbent on people to carefully consider what's being said and not knee-jerk react? As far as I can tell, all of the knee-jerk reactions in either direction simply add to the noise and outrage.

All told it makes for a difficult topic to discuss in good faith, absent agendas on or offline, but online it’s pure poison.

It makes a lot more sense to think of the whole situation as an exercise in the generation of outrage and toxicity in the service of attention and virality. Given that outrage is the easiest way to achieve virality, it doesn't take some sort of underlying conspiracy to explain this. We've created a sociopolitical milieu combined with networks which create these perverse incentives. The same combination amplifies the most toxic and nonsensical voices, and acts to disguise intelligent voices as nonsense.

The solution is for intelligent and reasonable voices to fight back against the nonsense. This means 1) calling out the excesses of one's own side and 2) uniting with voices of reason across the aisle. The opponent who values truth and with whom one can reasonably disagree with is much preferable to the sociopath no one can reason with because they are really motivated by power stemming from outrage.


Arguments also tend to start (unstatedly) from the baseline that "male is the default and most valuable" which will get backs up.

>Arguments also tend to start (unstatedly) from the baseline that "male is the default and most valuable"

Given that these assertions are unstated, they sound more like a manifestation of insecurity on the part of the listener.

Conversely, one could speculate that responses to questions of equality are frequently taken personally and met defensively, with resulting rationalizations, like the one you listed, of improper emotional reasoning.

This is only a controversial subject because people feel that there are potential negative implications to them as individuals, even though the rammifications are purely for distributions, which laymen tend not to understand, hence the personal responses.


"Unstated" things are not evidence.

That's the Conspiracy Fallacy.

https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFalla...

"Look at all these people not talking about how racist they are! Clearly they're all hiding something."


The problem comes from political views being dressed up as scientific. There's no question that there are biological differences caused by e.g. hormone levels but that hasn't been linked to high-level cognitive skills the same way, say, testosterone levels correlate with muscle development (this also raises the question of the degree of overlap between populations). This is especially complicated in humans because the brain is famously plastic and high-level cognitive skills represent years of practice so even if you did find, say, a difference in the size of a brain region you would still want to study whether that's innate or simply reflecting that people who do something a lot develop capacity for it. Similarly, most higher-level tasks combine multiple skills, often in different combinations, so it's really hard to try to go from a low-level measurement to explaining performance on something high level.

The neuroscientists I used to support were very quick to acknowledge that innate effects were possible but that they hadn't been linked to anything high level and were in all likelihood weak because if there was a strong effect so many decades of studies looking for them would have found something.


Then isn't https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00677-x also 'dressing up political views as scientific'? But that stirs far less controversy. At the very least, no-one ever got fired for claiming there are no differences.

> But that stirs far less controversy.

There's a difference between claiming that there are no difference and critically examining specific claims to see how well supported they are by the scientific evidence. The book review you linked to appears to fall in that tradition of critically examining claims and looking at sources of systemic error.

> At the very least, no-one ever got fired for claiming there are no differences.

Nobody has been fired for relevant scientifically-supported claims, either. What has happened is that some guys have spouted off outside of their areas of competency and tried to avoid the consequences by handwaving something about engaging in science. Science is a tool for becoming less-wrong over time, not a get-out-of-jail-free card.


Yet there are no consequences to avoid when people 'spout off outside their area of competency' and claim everyone is equal.

Look at e.g. Damore's memo. It was relevant and cited peer reviewed research in support of its claims. Whether those claims were true is another matter, but they were "scientifically supported" by any sensible standard. Yet he was fired, while all the people claiming the exact opposite, even when they did not cite any research, and just as much "outside their areas of competency", were not.

In that sense, you're very much correct - if you say something sufficiently unpopular, no matter how well scientifically supported, science won't act as a get-out-of-jail-free card, and won't save you from the backlash. At best it might provide a Nobel prize you can sell for cash when things get dire.


Having read Damore’s memo, I would not describe it that way. He was spouting off outside of his area of competency or job and in particular never established a link between the few cited papers and his claims. Linking a study about toy preferences in monkeys (no matter its merits) is a long way from supporting the claim that Google’s management stats were just reflecting a shortage of qualified people.

Having read Damore’s memo, I would not describe it that way.

Odd, but I saw videos of Google and YouTube execs soon afterwards talking at conferences saying some of the same things that were somehow so terrible in the Damore memo.

In particular, they stated that they were doing about as well as the education pipeline could allow, and they also speculated that there might be changes to the work environment which could make jobs more desirable to women.

Linking a study about toy preferences in monkeys (no matter its merits) is a long way from supporting the claim that Google’s management stats were just reflecting a shortage of qualified people.

That hardly strikes me as an intellectually robust summary of the memo.


> That hardly strikes me as an intellectually robust summary of the memo.

Try going through it to extract a coherent thesis and then look for the citations, noting how few of them there are at all, how many are secondary sources, and especially how big the gaps are between the things being claimed and what the cited evidence actually supports. Damore is not a very good writer but he’s proficient in the Gish Gallup – if you’re not reading carefully easy easy to careen from point to point without asking how well each one is argued.


It's like we're reading two different memos. I'm going to guess you're one of those "all gender differences are machinations of the patriarchy" ideologues? There are plenty of intelligent people who are fine with the idea that there are biological gender differences. There is plenty of evidence, the balance of which also finds that men and women are equally intelligent on average.

https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/08/07/contra-grant-on-exagge...

http://www.overcomingbias.com/2018/09/sexism-inflation.html

Here's an interview by James Damore by feminist LianaK:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SFLoKa8FdA

He's not a monster or a raging sexist. He and his memo certainly didn't warrant the hysterical mass staying-home that happened shortly after the media kerfuffle. (In retrospect, I'm actually happy the whole reaction happened, though it is a shame an innocent man lost his job. This event can be preserved for future generations and studied and evaluated for what it really was -- and for how ridiculous and dishonest it was.)


What if it had nothing to do with brain effects but something to do with raw interest in a thing?

I have serious doubts that my interests were given to me socially. I have always liked the color and flavor orange, I have always liked chocolate (one of my best friends does not), I have always wanted to take things apart to figure out how they worked... the latter led more or less "naturally" to programming (especially after taking my first programming class and realizing I LOVED it). What if it turned out that the "urge to take things apart and learn how they worked", at some very low level, was more of a male thing? Why would that be so bad? That doesn't mean that equivalently-interested women need be held back in any way/shape/form (because, duh, they shouldn't!)


>What if it turned out that the "urge to take things apart and learn how they worked", at some very low level, was more of a male thing?

Stop right here. You're already describing a high-level skill, an extremely high-level skill. What does grandparent have to say about this?

>high-level cognitive skills represent years of practice so even if you did find, say, a difference in the size of a brain region you would still want to study whether that's innate or simply reflecting that people who do something a lot develop capacity for it

So we see that the very question you are asking is precisely what grandparent is calling out as impossible to get some kind of direct access to in the first place. Why?

>because the brain is famously plastic

The brain, by the definition of its form, doesn't leave an audit trail, so by definition, _we cannot ask the kinds of questions you want to ask_, questions that, obviously, many many people _want_ to ask, _unless_ we somehow develop a way to backtrack the brain's _inline mutation_, which doesn't look likely. But ethical and political discourse is not designed to _wait_ until we have all the information to even make answering the questions they pose possible, questions which make _presumptions_ in the _absence of knowledge_, presumptions they can't actually cash the check for.

Science has _bounds_; ethico-political discourse does not. They are not composable types.

You ask, "Why would that be so bad? "

But we can't even begin to access the _conditions_ for even getting the presumption to be true, so what other value is there left for a question which is own shaky epistemological ground? What is the value of _supposing_ that it is true?


Good points all, but on this:

> What is the value of _supposing_ that it is true?

The problem is that the (calling it this for effect) "blank-slate hypothesis mafia" is assuming that it is NOT true.

If what you say is valid, then NO SIDE should be taken seriously until more evidence comes in.


> What if it had nothing to do with brain effects but something to do with raw interest in a thing?

Where does that raw interest come from? Humans are highly social creatures and children show signs of learning socially very early so it requires a great deal of care to distinguish between a correlation and the underlying cause. If something is social behaviour, that means that we can also question whether it's worth continuing.

> What if it turned out that the "urge to take things apart and learn how they worked", at some very low level, was more of a male thing? Why would that be so bad? That doesn't mean that equivalently-interested women need be held back in any way/shape/form (because, duh, they shouldn't!)

The problem is that the latter part is really hard to actually deliver: historically that meant that girls were actively discouraged or prevented from being interested in things which are identified as male but even without overt prevention social pressure is a real problem — maybe nobody tells someone directly “you can't do this” but if the image of programming is “you'd be the only girl” or the widespread “only nerdy boys like this” trope that's going to have an impact, and one which will probably start well before anyone is, say, picking a major in college. It doesn't even need to be conscious — maybe nobody actually thinks negatively but they just assumed that, say, a bright high school student would be more interested in biology than math or CS and never really even suggested the latter. Maybe at some point they give up after being asked again why they're doing something associated with the other gender, which is tiring even if it's not intended to be mean.

Those social factors are all around us and the only thing which seems to work is actively correcting against them so that every kid has as wide a range of opportunities open to them.


> Where does that raw interest come from?

Isn't that the precise question that science is trying to answer, but which is being disputed by people who do not like the answers?

> Humans are highly social creatures and children show signs of learning socially very early so it requires a great deal of care to distinguish between a correlation and the underlying cause

Sure. And you'd also have to distinguish things like hormones... would those be categorized as "nature" or "nurture"? If you categorize them as "nurture" then it would give more credence to the blank-slate hypothesis, since there are definite, measurable changes to physique and behavior from having a higher blood testosterone level, for example.

> The problem is that the latter part is really hard to actually deliver: historically that meant that girls were actively discouraged or prevented from being interested in things which are identified as male

This is sort of a "they can't handle the truth" argument, or perhaps a "guilty until proven innocent" argument, which I don't like. But it is an argument. I guess... It's also an appeal to tradition fallacy- it's quite possible that times have changed and that, more generally, everyone is supported in whatever interests them, way more than it was in "those times", regardless of any emerging scientific info about correlations to gender.

> but even without overt prevention social pressure is a real problem

So is the Petrie multiplier: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petrie_multiplier

We should then teach young people not to care about conformity, then. I didn't... My Pascal class in high school (this dates me... this was the late 80's) had 1 woman and myself, and she was awesome. (She's a doctor now.)

> Maybe at some point they give up after being asked again why they're doing something associated with the other gender, which is tiring even if it's not intended to be mean

As a guy I often meet other guys, and the usual guy thing is to talk about sports, which I have pretty much zero interest in. When I was younger, they would give me shit about it (oh jesus, having flashbacks to bad trading of baseball cards, etc.), but as an adult, guys sense when that's not your thing and move onto other topics. I don't think we'll ever completely escape the "jerky kid" element to social pressure, perhaps because part of what it means to be human seems to be to learn how not to be an asshole. :)

> and the only thing which seems to work is actively correcting against them so that every kid has as wide a range of opportunities open to them

Well that's the catch- what is the best way to "actively correct against them"? Some might say "enforcement" (quotas, etc.) but I don't think that's fair, my way would be "teach people not to care one bit what others think about their interests because they are YOUR interests."


> Isn't that the precise question that science is trying to answer, but which is being disputed by people who do not like the answers?

Science does investigate all sorts of questions and there isn’t exactly a movement to shutdown neuroscience and psychology research. What there is a reaction to are people claiming to know the answer to these big field-defining questions, which conveniently says that their politics are the only right position, and otherwise claiming the mantle of science while acting contrary to how actual science is supposed to work. Sometimes that includes criticism of scientific figures but that’s when they aren’t doing good science: nobody would question that James Watson is a real scientist but the criticism he gets today isn’t for asking unpopular questions but for falling so short of the standard. Had he wanted to do real research into intelligence and genetics he’d have had no shortage of resources and collaborators but he wouldn’t have the big dramatic claims, just more slow progress chipping away at one of the hardest problems in the world.


>Isn't that the precise question that science is trying to answer, but which is being disputed by people who do not like the answers?

If science is still trying to find the answers, then the people who claim to know what the science proves merely have an agenda.

And it's the agenda that people don't like, the attempt to write all differences between gender, particularly in terms of social and business roles, off as genetics.


Two patterns I notice in the arguments (in general on many sites):

* Interest has been conflated with ability. You can see this most prominently with the James Damore diversity memo, which was all about interest, but has been declared to be about ability by almost everyone lambasting him for it.

* Misunderstanding "average" as "all", another common misrepresentation of Damore's diversity memo.


Agree with this. I read the Damore memo and don't understand all the rage around it. He proposed organic solutions to an organic problem, and the Internet went apeshit over it.

You're doing yourself a disservice by mentioning Damore at all.

His manifesto may have had some points, but was also rife with utter bullshit, false equivalence, value judgements, and personal biases.

Damore has also since proven himself to be an utter chode in his unwavering insistence that he is 100% right.

If you have an argument to make, you'll reach more people without mentioning that nonsense.


> You're doing yourself a disservice by mentioning Damore at all.

> Damore has also since proven himself to be an utter chode

This is the appeal to shame fallacy, pure and simple.

> in his unwavering insistence that he is 100% right

I have yet to see solid rational arguments against his assertions that do not fall into one fallacy or another (appeal to moderation, appeal to emotion, strawman, appeal to... you name it, I've seen it). Until I am shown a well-worded rational argument against his actual assertions, and not some strawman that outrage-powered anti-intellectuals chose to discredit, he is correct (so far). I read his paper, all he did was propose organic solutions to an organic problem, I didn't see what was so outrageous about that.

Critical thinking seems to be a vastly underrated skill these days.


The Wikipedia page on the topic does not reflect what you say. It shows criticism and support from multiple people.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google's_Ideological_Echo_Ch...


Right but it's a such a lightning rod that it instantly derails any reasonable discussion. It's basically the Godwin's law of conversations about sex, gender, and political bias.

"this conversation is too miscommunicative to be had"

...is exactly the sort of conversation that needs to happen


No, it's not. Damore is (objectively) an asshole and doesn't earn any discussion.

Choose any one of the (fairly unoriginal) points he was trying to make and talk about that.


> Damore is (objectively) an asshole

Come on, dude. This is no longer a rational argument, you are making personal attacks. Jobs was also an asshole, but he also happened to be right the vast majority of the time. One of my doctors is an asshole (let's call him "Dr. House"), but he's excellent, and I have seen the studies that say "bedside manner" not only doesn't correlate with skill/patient outcomes, it may INVERSELY correlate with skill/patient outcomes.

I don't give a fuck if someone's an asshole, as long as they're right. You can call it the Walter Sobchak worldview (as in "You're not wrong, Walter, you're just an asshole!") All this kowtowing to people's feelings just encourages bullshit; the truth often does not care what you or I think about it.

> Choose any one of the (fairly unoriginal) points he was trying to make and talk about that

OK, sure. Let's go with one point from his "Concrete Suggestions" section. "Stop alienating conservatives." What is unreasonable about that? A work environment that is hostile to conservative viewpoints is a hostile fucking work environment. I'm not even conservative (I'm "left of center") and that seems plain as day to me and completely nondebatable.


The notion of cognitive differences isn't that controversial. What's controversial is making value judgements about their utility in critical social contexts.

There isn't evidence of an "obviously superior" thought modality for most any given task or family of tasks you can name.

What's more, it is a generally accepted fact among scientists that these values exist as distributions among the population (and even this paper demonstrates non-total values). Since we generally think that DNA and extensive physical scanning shouldn't be a prerequisite for social contexts, many of these differences aren't especially meaningful for something like a hiring committee.


One possibility is how it relates to the debate around the gender earnings/wage gap.

There's an argument that the gap is not significant because it (mostly) disappears when accounting for gender-specific choices, i.e. taking maternity leave and not returning, or not bidding for an ambitious raise.

The common counter-argument is to say well, even if it down to choices it's an undesirable situation for society, that women are paid significantly less than men as a whole. Perhaps we can structure things so that men and women make more similar choices?

The counter to the counter-argument is that such a thing is not possible (or should not even be attempted) because of gender differences that are innate and cannot be "fixed" by socialisation. This is where the murky science regarding gender-based differences in early life gets dragged into the argument.


The argument that "the gap disappears when accounting for gender-specific choices" is made as an explanation of why the gap exists, which is entirely different to an argument that the gap is not significant. Such an argument would arguably be specious; the income gap is obviously still there and arguably it has negative social effects, so offsetting it via gender-dependent redistribution could well make sense.

It depends who's making the argument!

I've generally found people on HN to be sensitive to the nuance, but over on reddit - where the level of discourse is lower but perhaps more reflective of everyday conversation - things are very different. Some use the choice explanation to dismiss the finding as not problematic, or to push the blame onto women. Some recent examples after a quick search:

https://www.reddit.com/r/ukpolitics/comments/aujkwr/_/eh9n9r...

> The gender pay gap might not be a problem and it could just be the result of the choices of both men and women

https://www.reddit.com/r/ukpolitics/comments/ac8u6p/_/ed64p8...

> The gender pay gap has been debunked, can we move on already

https://www.reddit.com/r/ukpolitics/comments/acc3tv/_/ed6tw7...

> Do people still believe in the gender pay gap? Is is still being pushed as “women getting paid less because they are women”?

https://www.reddit.com/r/ukpolitics/comments/acgxxn/_/ed7vbj...

> It’s almost as stupid as the gender pay gap day


If we accept that explanation then we get a lot more nuanced situation than just "it has negative social effects". A lot things have a negative social effect, but it is very rare that a redistribution is the right policy to solve it.

A gender-dependent redistribution would depend on which data we want to use. If for example carer choice is included, then we have a gap in work related injuries and death. A hard problem to redistribute. If numbers or hours at work is included we would need to redistribute that too, including overtime, and in regard to sick days women spend 50% more of that so gender-dependent redistribution model would also have to account for that.

The biggest problem I see however with a gender-dependent redistribution model is that the distribution curve is not flat. The top 1% look very different than the bottom 1%. If we look at introduction wages alone we get close to 0% pay gap in most industries, with some that overpay men and other that overpay women. A common finding in gender studies is that the bottom 10% and top 10% is dominated by men, with the top 1% being exceptional outliners, which if the same is true for income means that a gender-dependent redistribution would either need to be very dumb or be applied based on such distribution curve.

If we include pay gap to mean all income, including those with zero income, we get problems that a homeless man is treated equal to a home spouse where their partner is a millionaire. A gender-dependent redistribution should also account for this basic context.

This is why that explanation has so profound effect on the discussion. It basically makes a gender-dependent redistribution policy impossible. A bit like how crime policy in regard to gender, race and immigrant status is profoundly changed if we accept the explanation based on social economical status.


Paul Graham had an essay[0] from 2004 that made the claim that taboos are created by semi-powerful groups to control situations. Taboo things aren't obviously wrong (like saying I'm 10' tall, it's not offensive, it's just incorrect); they might have some truth to them and they endanger a certain group's position.

[0] http://www.paulgraham.com/say.html


Case in point about "a certain group's position", it seems that the underlying stance of "the gendered brain doesnt exist" is: difference equals inferiority. Which of course is both absurd and reactionary. Saying that there is no difference and gender/behaviour is 100% the result of social pressure basicly means that for example gays are also conditioned, so this "theory" actually agrees with nutcase things like gay conversion therapy.

> Saying that there is no difference and gender/behaviour is 100% the result of social pressure basicly means that for example gays are also conditioned, so this "theory" actually agrees with nutcase things like gay conversion therapy.

oh wow. this is a great point.


Biological cognitive differences (real or not) have traditionally been applied to exclude people from work, opportunities, and liberty that, in a free society, everyone should have the chance to access.

I get the sense there is a fear that concrete evidence of biological cognitive differences will give cover to discrimination, and likely broader discrimination than the evidence really "supports."


> Biological cognitive differences (real or not) have traditionally been applied to exclude people from work, opportunities, and liberty that, in a free society, everyone should have the chance to access.

Sources? I don’t believe anyone has been using science (biological cognitive differences?) to exclude individuals from jobs, beyond the perfectly acceptable “let’s not hire the stupid and incompetent when we can hire someone less stupid and less incompetent”


Go back a hundred years and the culture is full of this kind of stuff. Racial and sexual stereotypes were rampant, and people could commonly point to "science" to back up their biases. Surely you are aware of this?

So because "scarequote science" (as you are using it) was 1 flavor 100 years ago (an extremely flawed one), that means MODERN-DAY science is also suspect?

If I cherry-pick 1 study out of 10 which corroborates my worldiew and use it to cudgel my oppressive point home, that is not a "science problem," the problem there is that someone must step up and point out that 9 other studies did not have results in agreement with that one person's worldview!


> I don’t believe anyone has been using science (biological cognitive differences?) to exclude individuals from jobs

That was what I was responding to. Yes, people have used science as an excuse to do those very things.



Phrenology has no actual science behind it, otherwise it would still exist in some way/shape/form.

Not clear to me what definition of "actual science" is operative here, and how you measure whether it still exists in some way/shape/form, but this may be hindsight bias.

Gall was taking real measurements inspired by:

- the faulty premise that there was a closer relationship between small differences in the exterior of the head and the brain than ultimately existed

- the ultimately borne-out premise that different mental faculties are closely related with different physical parts of the brain

If the science underpinning most but not all interpretations of fMRI results was debunked in the next 20 years, it seems like there would still be "actual science" behind the incorrect conclusions. How/where do you draw the line between phrenology's primitive grasp of the relationship between mental faculties and brain areas and the manifestation of the same concept in fMRI?


I don't think it's necessary, as a simple Google search on "structural brain differences" reveals hundreds of studies identifying physical differences correlating with various things such as transgendered individuals, dyslexics, etc.

> there is a fear that concrete evidence

Fear of the truth... Always a good reason to not do something. ::eyeroll::


I don't believe this fear involves "the truth." The fear is that a true thing (there are cognitive differences between men and women) will be used to bolster a lie (men and women should be excluded from varying industries based on reductive readings of physical generalizations). This is something that has happened repeatedly throughout history and along many dimensions; it's not an unfounded fear.

That you seem to think "something" should be done at all in response to this study only validates the fear.


Oh jeez... the "something" was referring to doing the actual research, not to acting on it (which I would be against, anyway)

There's a strong tendency, in some environments, to view equality in terms of equality of outcome. E.g. women are not and will not be equal to men until they compromise 50% of engineers, 50% of CEOs, etc. Coupled to this is an assumption that any inequality of outcome is indicative of bias or discrimination, and thus positive discrimination is valid to rectify it.

The notion of population level differences is not good for such people because it would men that disparities of outcome may exist without bias. It's extra uncomfortable for places that engage in discrimination to rectify disparities of outcome, because it fractures the justifications for these policies. E.g. if we accept that women might make up 20-25% of engineers without societal bias, the discriminatory policies to try and hire 50% women doesn't very fair any more.


> Can someone (likely younger than me) explain to me why the concept of gender-associated cognitive differences has become so controversial, and why the “blank slate hypothesis” is the only one considered acceptable?

I speculate that the "blank state hypothesis" has a media footprint that's disproportionate to the number of people who actually believe it in its strongest form.

Perhaps more media attention is given to people who argue for extreme nature-vs-nurture positions, rather than more moderate nature-and-nurture positions?


>Can someone (likely younger than me) explain to me why the concept of gender-associated cognitive differences has become so controversial, and why the “blank slate hypothesis” is the only one considered acceptable?

For "social sciences" it's easy, they are mostly fashion.

For harder sciences, well, with enough people pushing, they will promote whatever doesn't cost them grants. It's not like most of the studies are well done or reproducible anyway.


I think part of the controversy is also that there have recently been high-profile cases of scientists with an agenda and a hypothesis that they fundamentally believe, and then produce research for the purpose of trying to prove their hypothesis rather than keeping it neutral or attempting to disprove their hypothesis.

But the problem goes both ways. There are also social justice warriors who choose to believe their intuition and feelings over cold logic.

Basically, it's an emotionally charged topic that makes objective analysis difficult due to the complexity of humans and their motivations.


> gender-associated cognitive differences has become so controversial, and why the “blank slate hypothesis” is the only one considered acceptable? This was an entirely different story when I was in college.

Because that kind of "science" was leveraged by many as a reason, with things like "you're a woman, hence..." or "you're a man, hence...", even though the variation within a sex is enough to explain many differences for individuals.

It seems that pushing a simpler hypothesis is easier than explaining statistics to the world.


The biggest issue is that, with such gender-related differences, it is virtually impossible to differentiate between what is biological in nature and what is the result of socialization. You're basically just limited to fetal development and infant behaviors, which you can't exactly extrapolate to career choices and adult cognitive function.

Looking at modern-day gender ratios in careers and just hypothesizing a biological cause is specious reasoning. You need so much more evidence to make that claim.


Identical twins raised separately have a 50% higher concordance of sexual orientation. Note: Not 100%, but also not 0%.

This tells me that, at least in the case of sexual preference (and possibly, all other preferences, such as in learning how things work/STEM), it seems to be significantly (but not completely; but also not insignificantly) influenced by nonsocial/biological/"root" factors.

This is of course, unfortunately, the most troublesome answer, because all it does is lead to even more questions.


sexual preference is a pretty bad stand-in for career choices. But we don't have to use it, there are twin studies on career path: http://www.aei.org/publication/the-genetics-of-job-choice/ . The numbers vary a lot based on the specifics, but tend to be less than 50%.

But this only provides evidence of a genetic component to career choice, not sexual differences. To prove that, you'd need to isolate the genes responsible and show they are on the X or Y chromosomes. Actually, genes are a lot more complicated than that, and there would likely be a large number of interactions between a lot of different genes. So instead you'd need to use some sort of statistical model.

Also, I'd note that this doesn't rule out societal factors. Heritability scores are a measure of the interaction between genes and the environment. If we lived in a world where it was against the law for a woman to be a computer programmer, you'd see a very strong genetic component for career choice as well!


> To prove that, you'd need to isolate the genes responsible and show they are on the X or Y chromosomes.

I don't think that's necessary. All you'd have to do IMHO is

1) take male identical-twin-raised-separately data about career choice

2) take female identical-twin-raised-separately data about career choice

3) do a multivariate regression analysis of both twin-to-twin and also gender-to-gender; you should be able to derive the statistical relationships between career and sex, and both of these to genetics, and that would demonstrate genetic influence.

Since the correlation between genes and career seems to be positive http://www.aei.org/publication/the-genetics-of-job-choice/, and the correlation of gender and career seems to be positive http://career.iresearchnet.com/career-development/gender-and... (although is claimed to be 100% environmental, according to the blank-slate hypothesis, which I consider a radical position), we can safely assume that some combination of all 3 is also positive, although the actual value requires math.


Absolutely none of this controls for social factors. Twin studies focus on twins raised separately, since they would have the same genes but a different environment. But unless one of the twins is raised in this society and another is raised in a society without any notion of gender roles, you aren't really demonstrating anything.

This doesn't really answer your question, but I wanted to sketch out how I think about the blank slate (or something like it) since it seems like you're engaging sincerely with everyone here.

1. Since networks in general like to produce complex emergent behavior, and our understanding of brains and behavior and networks and emergence are still fairly limited, I deal with the uncertainty by looking for sane default positions (i.e., a position to hold in the absence of comprehensive evidence otherwise). I'm not sure if it's obvious from a distance, but in practice default positions are an exercise in intellectual humility.

2. I am working on a sort of razor. I don't know what to call it, yet. When it comes to animal-kingdom behavior, a good default position is to think of any observed behavior as being in the possibility space of the broader category until the evidence against this is overwhelming. If we see one crow use a tool, assume tool use is in the crow possibility space. If we see another corvid do it, assume it's part of the corvid possibility space. If we see some non-corvid avian do it, assume it's part of the avian possibility space. If we already know humans do it, assume this goes back at least to our last common ancestor with birds.

If all of the nurses anyone has ever seen are female humans, it is fair to think of the occupation as part of the female human possibility space. If anyone has seen any non-female human nurse, it is prudent to think of the occupation as part of the human possibility space. If anyone has seen a canine nurse, it is prudent to think of nursing as part of the mammalian or animal possibility spaces.

Once you know a behavior is in the possibility space, another good default position is: assume everything known to influence any other behavior in that possibility space is involved, until the evidence against is overwhelming. Why do humans choose to become a nurse or not? Assume family, society, friends, money, justice, punishment, education, teachers/mentors, status, media, profound experiences, mate-seeking, curiosity/interest, talent, chasing neurochemicals, instinct, charity, hormones, tradition, biology/neurology, etc. play a role.

While it's certainly possible that the male/female nursing delta is caused by genetic sexually-dimorphic destiny, the default position suggests it isn't prudent to give this any more weight than the other possibilities until some can be ruled out or sexual dimorphism is resoundingly demonstrated to be the primary causal factor.

3. As the evidence for human neuroplasticity continues to accumulate, it seems at least plausible that our brains are significantly more plastic than we currently realize.

Likewise, as the evidence for complex behavior like tool use and learning in non-human species accumulates (including fish, reptiles, and insects), it seems at least plausible that reasoning, problem-solving, plasticity, and flexibility are vastly older (and more basic/common) than we thought.

Given these, it seems like a decent default position to assume that complex/unique behavior is more likely (but not necessarily) plastic/flexible than hard-wired.


The strains of third wave feminism that seems to have become a part of the ideology of a large portion of the modern left seem to depend very strongly on the argument "Men and women are the same. Therefore sexism and bias is unjustifiable both morally and scientifically." It also fits very nicely into the "gender as a social construct" theory of intersectional feminism and LGBT ideologies. In some respects they are correct that gender is a social construct, and also that "biological sex" isn't as clear cut as it first appears when you begin to consider edge cases. However, when you begin to think about HRT for trans people, I think the waters start to get murkier for their particular ideology. I'm not sure if they've found a way to reconcile HRT with the "blank slate" argument, but I haven't heard it. So forgive me if there is one.

An analogy to reconcile gender identity and the blank slate hypothesis - if we analogize our brains at birth to brand new cars, each with the exact same components and performance figures, then gender is simply the color that our cars are painted. A trans person is therefore simply a person with a blue-car brain in the biological body more usually associated with a red-car brain (or vice-versa). Our brains are all functionally equivalent, and gender is simply an associated property of the brain with no effect on form or function.

I don't personally agree with this line of reasoning (it fails to explain how people undergoing HRT often find themselves tending in personality to become more like the stereotype of their gender identity) but it does, in my view, hold water to an extent.


I worked in an MRI lab (academic) for a few years (as a tech/programmer/statistician) and honestly these kind of sex difference findings were really common.

We never did fetal scans, but we were also studying resting state fMRIs connectivity in adults. I'm semi ashamed to admit it, but a lot of times, if your main hypothesis didn't come to fruition in the data, you could usually just fall back on some sex-difference finding. You wouldn't even need to fish very hard for it. There is probably no other single 2-way split you could make that would more reliable give you large magnitude differences.

I don't know how else to present that idea though. It's not completely unreasonable that there might be some inherent bias in the processing. There are really a handful of tools that everyone uses. It's possible that there is some undiscovered bias somewhere. But if that is not the case, then I am pretty convinced from my time there that the differences are real, and they are usually of large magnitude. At least larger than the more interesting findings researchers look for.

Pretty crazy that they did fetal scans though. We had a lot of trouble normalizing even toddler brains on one study. I can't even imagine fetal ones.


ITT: People discussing how difficult it is to discuss this article without vicious pomo leftists censoring them.

Not ITT: The logical bridge for the conceptual chasm between observing sex differences in the brain and an explanation of how these differences in the sexes somehow always end up causing women to be in an economically and politically disadvantaged position subordinated to men.


[flagged]


Could you please review and follow the site guidelines so we don't have to ban you again? In particular, please don't post flamebait or unsubstantive comments.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

You might also find these links helpful for getting the spirit of this site:

https://news.ycombinator.com/newswelcome.html

https://news.ycombinator.com/hackernews.html

http://www.paulgraham.com/trolls.html

http://www.paulgraham.com/hackernews.html


Sorry, can you just delete my account or ban it or whatever? I'm too tired.

First and last phrases from the Abstract:

Sex-related differences in brain and behavior are apparent across the life course...These observations confirm that sexual dimorphism in functional brain systems emerges during human gestation.


As is nearly always the case with sex differences in brain tissue, the variation between sexes is swamped by the variation within either sex.

Here are some figures from this paper that illustrate what I mean:

https://ars.els-cdn.com/content/image/1-s2.0-S18789293183012... https://ars.els-cdn.com/content/image/1-s2.0-S18789293183012...

This is not intended to disparage their work. Rather, I mean to clarify that sex is not particularly predictive of what is being measured, and differences only appear when observed in aggregate.


This is like saying that the variation in height between women is much greater than the variation in difference between men and women. The outcome is still the same: The average man is taller than the average woman.

When the variation is cognitive, it will produce very real world statistical differences between men and women. You can't pick a random woman and a random man and assume the woman is inclined toward X and the man isn't. The statistical difference is too small to predict that. But take a thousand men and a thousand women and the percentages will bear out the small statistical difference.


"Brains appear different in an MRI" is several steps removed from behavioral differences.

Height is 0 steps removed from height.


I wonder if the sex correlation would go away if they controlled for digit ratios?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digit_ratio

When I started reading that they talked about sex hormones differentiating at 8 weeks and I was thinking that we'd have to throw out a lot of things we thought we knew about sexual development if they'd actually seen differences before that but, no, it was was later that this was measured.

It would be nice to have some notion of the effect size. That is, what fraction of female infants would have more FC-GA connection than the typical male. I'd bet that the dimorphism here is smaller than, say, height dimorphism but I wouldn't try guessing by how much.


Compare and contrast with "Neurosexism: the myth that men and women have different brains" (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00677-x, discussed here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19316221). Not to deny that gendered socialization makes differences (it does, as any activity). Still, I am puzzled by the dogmatic "there is no nature, there is only nurture; and don't dare to ask questions!" (maintained by some, including people I know personally).

Vide

- https://quillette.com/2019/03/11/science-denial-wont-end-sex... (discussed here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19360744)

"Not a week goes by without yet another research study, popular science book, or mainstream news article promoting the idea that (a) any differences between men and women in the brain are purely socially constructed and (b) these differences have been exaggerated beyond any meaningful relevance. More recently, this argument has evolved to contend that (c) there are, in fact, no brain differences between the sexes at all. Eliot’s article appears to subscribe to a hodgepodge of all three perspectives, which not only contradict one another but are also factually incorrect."

- https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/10/23/kolmogorov-complicity-... (discussed here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15539675)

"Did Giordano Bruno die for his astronomical discoveries or his atheism? False dichotomy: you can’t have a mind that questions the stars but never thinks to question the Bible. The best you can do is have a Bruno who questions both, but is savvy enough to know which questions he can get away with saying out loud. And the real Bruno wasn’t that savvy."

And pretty much as a side note, while some social differences ARE due to sexism, some others are because of more gender equality (and people being able to choose what they prefer, regardless of their gender):

"As women have more equal opportunity, the more their preferences differ from men" http://science.sciencemag.org/content/362/6412/eaas9899 (discussed here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18379943)


> there is no nature, there is only nurture; and don't dare to ask questions

The entire post-modern left worldview is deeply rooted in the blank-state hypothesis. Very few people - across all political and academic spectra - have the scientific discipline to react rationally to criticism of the scaffolding supporting the lens through which they view the world.


Would you have any reading you could suggest on this? A lot of my thinking is informed by postmodernism (mostly from that essay by Larry Wall, the original author of Perl), but I realize it's such a broad term that there may be a lot of other ideas (especially ones I disagree with, like the blank-state hypothesis) tucked in there as well.

I'm sorry, I wouldn't be able to provide any specific reading on this. My comment above was rooted in two things. Firstly, my own observations from several years immersed in the massive internet culture war between left and right that seems to define and frame the politics of our time. Secondly, my understanding of postmodern thought which I have gained through university tuition. As such, my thoughts on these topics tend to be based in intuition not rigor, which is perhaps ironic (or even hypocritical) given that it is postmodernism which I am criticizing, but I feel that my point stands nonetheless.

Haha fair enough. Well I am always open to more perspectives on it - even intuitive ones - so thanks for that.

This is pseudo-academic posturing nonsense. The issue people take is attributing value to the differences between sexes, not the biological differences in themselves.

You aren't looking hard enough if you don't believe people will flat out deny that biological differences exist between male and female cognition and neurobiology.

Sure, you can also find people who believe the Earth is flat... but the point is that they're not the majority.

Not many people would argue that testosterone causes men to have increased muscle mass, for example. But they might take issue if you make the claim that men are physically superior (because that concept is much more complex and it's weird to declare superiority without more specific constraints — It's akin to saying America is the best country).


What do people do when confronted with research that challenges the very fabric of modern gender politics?

As more research like this gets out, indicating that males and females really are genetically predisposed to different psychology, what happens to a sizable chunk of leftist politics, which currently allege men and women are identical and that differences in equity are entirely cultural and sexist in nature?

What does this say of modern cultural hiring and university admittance policies that are driven by untested assumptions contradicting research like this?

Perhaps our past measures of merit have not been so skewed as some people with an axe to grind would have you believe.


Panic. The tools used to confront such inconvenient truths are, as always, censorship and bullying.

Agreed, most people when faced with an valid point that disagrees with their argue end up being labelled sexist, bigoted and racist because they have nothing else to use

Protest isn't censorship



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