394 pages, 15 figs, 3 tabs
Female and male brains are different, thanks to hormones coursing through the brain before birth. That's taught as fact in psychology textbooks, academic journals, and bestselling books. And these hardwired differences explain everything from sexual orientation to gender identity, to why there aren't more women physicists or more stay-at-home dads.
In this compelling book, Rebecca Jordan-Young takes on the evidence that sex differences are hardwired into the brain. Analyzing virtually all published research that supports the claims of "human brain organization theory," Jordan-Young reveals how often these studies fail the standards of science. Even if careful researchers point out the limits of their own studies, other researchers and journalists can easily ignore them because brain organization theory just sounds so right. But if a series of methodological weaknesses, questionable assumptions, inconsistent definitions, and enormous gaps between ambiguous findings and grand conclusions have accumulated through the years, then science isn't scientific at all.
Elegantly written, this book argues passionately that the analysis of gender differences deserves far more rigorous, biologically sophisticated science. "The evidence for hormonal sex differentiation of the human brain better resembles a hodge-podge pile than a solid structure. Once we have cleared the rubble, we can begin to build newer, more scientific stories about human development."
Jordan-Young has written a stunning book that demolishes most of the science associated with the dominant paradigm of the development of sex and gender identity, behavior, and orientation. The current paradigm, brain organization theory, proposes: "Because of early exposure to different sex hormones, males and females have different brains"; and these hormones also create "gay" and "straight" brains. Jordan-Young interviewed virtually every major researcher in the field and reviewed hundreds of published scientific papers. Her conclusion: "Brain organization theory is little more than an elaboration of longstanding folk tales about antagonistic male and female essences and how they connect to antagonistic male and female natures." She explains, in exquisite detail, the flaws in the underlying science, from experimental designs that make no statistical sense to "conceptually sloppy" definitions of male and female sexuality, contradictory results, and the social construction of normality. Her conclusion that the patterns we see are far more complicated than previously believed and due to a wider range of variables will shake up the research community and alter public perception. Publishers Weekly (starred review) 20100712
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Rebecca M. Jordan-Young is a sociomedical scientist and an Assistant Professor of Women's Studies at Barnard College, Columbia University.