21st Century Phrenology, Part 2: The Argument from Similarity

Here's Science magazine on a study showing that MRIs of male and female subjects overlap in characteristics. The text then talks about how this proves that men and women are more alike than we thought, and uses this to support the current cultural and governmental elitist trend toward redefining gender as a social choice.

The majority of the brains were a mosaic of male and female structures, the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Depending on whether the researchers looked at gray matter, white matter, or the diffusion tensor imaging data, between 23% and 53% of brains contained a mix of regions that fell on the male-end and female-end of the spectrum. Very few of the brains—between 0% and 8%—contained all male or all female structures. “There is no one type of male brain or female brain,” Joel says. So how to explain the idea that males and females seem to behave differently? That too may be a myth, Joel says. Her team analyzed two large datasets that evaluated highly gender stereotypical behaviors, such as playing video games, scrapbooking, or taking a bath. Individuals were just as variable for these measures: Only 0.1% of subjects displayed only stereotypically-male or only stereotypically-female behaviors. “There is no sense in talking about male nature and female nature,” Joel says. “There is no one person that has all the male characteristics and another person that has all the female characteristics. Or if they exist they are really, really rare to find.” The findings have broad implications, Joel says. For one, she contends, researchers studying the brain may not need to compare males and females when analyzing their data. For another, she says, the extreme variability of human brains undermines the justifications for single-sex education based on innate differences between males and females, and perhaps even our definitions of gender as a social category.

--Science Magazine, November 30, 2015.

But of course there is overlap between male and female in brain structure. Why should there not be? Measures of height or lifespan in men and women are prime examples of how other generalizations based on secondary sexual characteristics often fail. Yet the early 21st century tendency in Western society to ignore primary sexual characteristics in assignment to places such as locker rooms or bathrooms in our schools is still absurd.

Showing that MRI phrenology fails to give reason to account for sex does not mean we should not account for sex. It means we should not use MRI phrenology in doing so.

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