Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences

Overview

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 ...

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BRAIN STORM

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Overview

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.”

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Jordan-Young, a sociomedical scientist and associate professor of women's studies at Barnard, 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 long-standing 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. This book, technical but well written, deserves wide attention. 16 line illus. (Sept.)
Los Angeles Times
What Jordan-Young's analysis uncovered is by turns fascinating and appalling...This book is not only a tonic, it's also full of scientific insights presented in plain, intelligent prose--an absorbing read, if you've ever wondered what was going on in the secret parts of your attic.
— Sara Lippincott
Science
Jordan-Young ferret[s] out exaggerated, unreplicated claims and other silliness regarding research on sex differences. The book [is] strongest in exposing research conclusions that are closer to fiction than science.
— Diane F. Halpern
The Guardian
Exhaustively analyses every relevant study on hormonal sex differentiation of the human brain, and argues that they are riddled with weaknesses, inconsistencies and ambiguity. It's a clarion call for better science on the subject.
— Madeleine Bunting
Boston Globe
A carefully researched volume that exposes the problems with the widely accepted idea that gender differences are created by certain hormones in the womb.
— Alex Spanko
Boston Globe

A carefully researched volume that exposes the problems with the widely accepted idea that gender differences are created by certain hormones in the womb.
— Alex Spanko

Los Angeles Times

What Jordan-Young's analysis uncovered is by turns fascinating and appalling...This book is not only a tonic, it's also full of scientific insights presented in plain, intelligent prose—an absorbing read, if you've ever wondered what was going on in the secret parts of your attic.
— Sara Lippincott

Science

Jordan-Young ferret[s] out exaggerated, unreplicated claims and other silliness regarding research on sex differences. The book [is] strongest in exposing research conclusions that are closer to fiction than science.
— Diane F. Halpern

The Guardian

Exhaustively analyses every relevant study on hormonal sex differentiation of the human brain, and argues that they are riddled with weaknesses, inconsistencies and ambiguity. It's a clarion call for better science on the subject.
— Madeleine Bunting

London Review of Books

In her exhaustive survey of the literature, Jordan-Young discovers a hodge-podge of tiny samples, inadequate controls, conflicting data and extravagant conclusions...By meticulously revealing the flawed research behind brain organization theory, she opens the way to a non-hierarchical study of sex difference that will be both more fruitful for science and less damaging for society.
— Hilary Rose and Steven Rose

Gay and Lesbian Review

Jordan-Young's detailed and exhaustive critique of brain organization research is quite welcome.
— Vernon Rosario

Lisa Diamond
I'm the ideal test reader for Brain Storm. I've always had reservations about the sweeping claims that there are fundamental differences in the organization of male and female brains, caused by prenatal hormones. But the sheer number of published studies that seemed to give incontrovertible evidence led me to assume that the theory was sound. This elegantly written and fascinating book has changed my mind. Jordan-Young's comprehensive analysis of the array of conflicting results and methodological weaknesses shows that we have closed the book on this topic far too soon. Her warning is one that all scientists can agree with: Careful!
Anne Fausto-Sterling
This important and intellectually powerful book shows that a dominant paradigm in human sex differences is held together by chewing gum. By painstakingly examining a large and contradictory literature, Jordan-Young shows the weakness of the brain organization hypothesis. She has so much respect for the scientific method that she can hope that reason and integrity will help create a better, more empirically sound theory of sex differences, and she reaches out to scientists to offer a glimpse of a new psychobiology.
Evan Balaban
This is a book of remarkable depth that sets a new standard for clear scientific thinking about complex behavioral traits, as well as for interdisciplinary scholarship. Rebecca Jordan-Young charts a fresh new course through the morass of questions about gender and sexuality with enviable humor, fairness, and intellectual power.
Stephen J. Ceci And Wendy M. Williams
Brain Storm poses the most comprehensive challenge yet to the claim that prenatal hormone exposure permanently structures the brain to be either masculine or feminine, and does so in a highly engaging, fair-minded narrative that is a delight to read.
Boston Globe - Alex Spanko
A carefully researched volume that exposes the problems with the widely accepted idea that gender differences are created by certain hormones in the womb.
Los Angeles Times - Sara Lippincott
What Jordan-Young's analysis uncovered is by turns fascinating and appalling...This book is not only a tonic, it's also full of scientific insights presented in plain, intelligent prose--an absorbing read, if you've ever wondered what was going on in the secret parts of your attic.
Slate - Amanda Schaffer
It was with appreciation verging on glee that I read Barnard professor Rebecca Jordan-Young's devastatingly smart and definitive critique: Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences. Jordan-Young argues that the science of prenatal hormones, gender, and the mind "better resembles a hodgepodge pile than a solid structure." And she knows of what she speaks. An expert on measures and study designs, Jordan-Young has spent the last 13 years combing the literature on brain organization, unpacking assumptions, questioning methods and statistical practices, holding one paper up against another. She stresses that fetal hormones must matter to the brain--somehow. But after picking apart more than 400 studies that try to understand the genesis of particular psychological sex differences (real or supposed), she concludes that fetal T looks like an awfully anemic explanation...After decades of determined research, if robust links between prenatal hormones and "male" or "female" minds really exist, shouldn't we see those links across lots of different kinds of studies? This matters because the obsession with prenatal T can easily become a distraction. It can make us forget how much gender norms have changed--think of all those female accountants, lawyers, and doctors who weren't around 50 or even 30 years ago--and how remarkably similar men's and women's brains and minds actually are. All this unwarranted hammering away at difference (and its putative explanations) causes real trouble, too. As a growing body of research shows, cues that foreground gender and bring stereotypes to mind can dampen men's performance on tests of social sensitivity, women's scores on math tests, and women's stated interest in quantitative pursuits. Jordan-Young has done an enormous amount of work to untangle the gender claims. We ought to read her, cite her, thank her. And then, let's move on.
Science - Diane F. Halpern
Jordan-Young ferret[s] out exaggerated, unreplicated claims and other silliness regarding research on sex differences. The book [is] strongest in exposing research conclusions that are closer to fiction than science.
The Guardian - Madeleine Bunting
Exhaustively analyses every relevant study on hormonal sex differentiation of the human brain, and argues that they are riddled with weaknesses, inconsistencies and ambiguity. It's a clarion call for better science on the subject.
London Review of Books - Hilary Rose And Steven Rose
In her exhaustive survey of the literature, Jordan-Young discovers a hodge-podge of tiny samples, inadequate controls, conflicting data and extravagant conclusions...By meticulously revealing the flawed research behind brain organization theory, she opens the way to a non-hierarchical study of sex difference that will be both more fruitful for science and less damaging for society.
Gay and Lesbian Review - Vernon Rosario
Jordan-Young's detailed and exhaustive critique of brain organization research is quite welcome.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674057302
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 9/7/2010
  • Pages: 408
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Rebecca M. Jordan-Young is a sociomedical scientist and an Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at Barnard College, Columbia University.
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2012

    Critical analysis, and a good one at that

    Excellent review of the science of gender, how scientists conceptualisze it, measure it, and how that affects our understanding of what it means to be male or female. The best work yet and an honest, insightful read. I've enjoyed it immensely.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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