Category Popular Culture

Review: Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine

Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine is an example of that rare science book that sets me on a new way of thinking. That’s not to say I found it perfect — there is much to disagree with between its covers, some of which I will abstract here — but for framing and displaying the Big Questions that guide us as scientists, it has few parallels.

It seems the only uninterrupted (read: Internet-free) time I have to read is on airplanes. The time between boarding and achieving cruising altitude, and the mirror-image process of landing, is a time that all electronic devices are stowed, and therefore a perfect time for an old-fashioned, paper and pasteboard book.

I was sitting on the plane to Seattle, engaging in my usual practice of “eavesdropping” on what the person to my right was reading.

It was the book Bringing Up Boys by James Dobson. The passage at the top of the page he was reading (page 15, to be precise) said:

“Think for a moment about the above quotes from Steinem, Greer, and the other early feminists. Most of them were never married, didn’t like children, and deeply resented men, yet they advised millions of women on how to raise their children and, especially, how to produce healthy boys. There is no evidence that Steinem or Greer ever had any significant experience with children of either sex. Isn’t it interesting that the media (to my knowledge) never homed in on that incongruity? And isn’t it sad that these women were allowed to twist and warp the attitudes of a generation of kids?”

What I was reading was like a sort of Ode on a Grecian Urn of Nonsense, a perfection in stupidity. How did Dobson know that early feminists “deeply resented men” and “didn’t like children”? That damn mainstream media dropped the ball again, by refusing to expose the perfidy of people fighting for basic human rights. I’m not even sure what the evidence is for either Steinem or Greer “advis[ing] millions of women on how to raise children”. Sure, I know they wrote on the subject, but as an adolescent at the time, I don’t recall a lot of my peers’ parents following Greer’s advice to raise us like Tahitians. I don’t recall a single lavalava being worn to classes in my high school.

Teaching Thursday: The Original Sin of Molecular Biology

I’ve been away from blogging for awhile.

I intended to spend my summer producing and editing videos, but I wanted to do that on my own content. Instead, because of a miscommunication that wiped out wide swaths of our existing lecture content, I have been spending the last few weeks producing and editing videos to be used in our anatomy & physiology course.

Most of these are specific to the course, but this one is a general introduction to molecular biology.

Recently, my Twitter account was filled with a back-and-forth between an earnest young female scientist who had met, and was taken by the intellectual prowess of, James Watson. A number of us old hands, from many different fields, jumped on her a little more than we should have, telling her about the wrongs that he had perpetrated on science in general and molecular biology in particular.

For example, Ivan Oransky of the excellent “Retraction Watch” and “Embargo Watch” blogs had written an Op-Ed on the subject of James Watson’s crude nonsense for the Boston Globe.

No more august an authority on unpleasant behavior than E.O. Wilson called Watson

the most unpleasant human being I have ever met


which is a sentiment you will hear echoed often, from my brief personal exposure all the way to those who knew him best.

It was in the spirit of trying to pass along to a new generation the bitter lessons of the previous generation that informed me as I sat down to discuss what I call “The Original Sin of Molecular Biology”.



The Truth About Cats’ and Dogs’ (Brains)

As a neuroscientist and dog trainer, I’ve always been fascinated by the interface between the two.

For me, the most powerful forms of dog training utilize the secret bonds of empathy and guidance, much like a psychiatrist will act as docent to take a patient on a guided tour of their own brain.



For example, in the therapeutic school called Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, the therapist acts as neuroscientist, suggesting hypotheses and carrying out experiments in conjunction with the patient. “Let’s hypothesize that you will be harmed by snakes, Mr. Jones. Are you saying that all snakes are harmful, or just some types?”

That’s how good, effective dog training works, as well. I have always been drawn to the power and elegance of the very best behavioral-based trainers, such as Dr. Sophia Yin, Monique Anstee and Dr. Suzanne Hetts.

Oscar® Winning Neuroscientists

A classic method for earning a quick sawbuck is to bet someone that you can find the word “Wisconsin” on a US $5 bill. You’ll need a magnifying glass, but there it is, around the top of the Lincoln Memorial.

If you’re bored with that bet, or if you just want a change of pace, bet someone you can name two Academy Award winners who have published papers in neuroscience.

Colin Firth and Natalie Herschlag, Neuroscientists (and actors)

As Mind Hacks has already pointed out, both Natalie Portman (neé Hershlag) and Colin Firth (neé Firth) have played a prominent enough role in recent neuroscience research to merit mentions as fifth and third authors, respectively, on neuroscience research papers.

The Kanai et al. paper, on which Firth is an author, has already been covered in this blog. The story of how Firth (and fellow BBC radio host Tom Feilden) came to be co-authors with Kanai and Geraint Rees has been explained in the Neurocritic blog.

Firth originally commissioned Kanai and Rees to scan the brains of two British politicians, one liberal (Labour), one conservative.