Neuroscientist Larry Cahill takes issue with a Feb 2019 Nature favorable book review of Gina Rippon’s The Gendered Brain: The New Neuroscience That Shatters The Myth Of The Female Brain.
Cahill’s response prompted an interview by Medium Neuroscience writer Meghan Daum.
Scientific findings have a way of upsetting apple carts, especially when we consider our oft-demonstrated human capacity to bend science to advantage some power-coveting groups over others.
Valid research amply shows there are real differences in male and female neuroanatomy and functions. Honest science must follow the evidence where it leads. Clearly, any discovered differences cannot be allowed to justify unequal social or economic opportunities or treatment. Cahill compares the situation to genetics. That people differ genetically in a vast number of ways cannot be taken as cause to misstate scientific findings or preclude further learning about genetics.
There are times and circumstances in which certain research approaches must be blocked for humane or other reasons but that is a different argument than denying the findings of a body of research because they are uncomfortable or inconvenient.
Misleading and sensationalist news personalities have ceased to be noteworthy. They are the norm in American mainstream media. Interviewers strive to oversimplify and shape guests’ messages–tactics interviewees who are good communicators can cast in sharp relief. Experts tend to present information in systemic, relational, and process terms no longer welcome in or compatible with the aims of popular media outlets.
A fascinating article in The Atlantic not only surfaces these tactics (which may have become habits more than deliberate interviewing methods) but highlights the challenge any expert or systems thinker faces when attempting to convey concepts of any complexity or nuance.
I also found the interviewee’s (a sociologist) points very interesting in themselves. For example,
Peterson (expert): There’s this idea that hierarchical structures are a sociological construct of the Western patriarchy. And that is so untrue that it’s almost unbelievable. I use the lobster as an example: We diverged from lobsters evolutionarily history about 350 million years ago. And lobsters exist in hierarchies. They have a nervous system attuned to the hierarchy. And that nervous system runs on serotonin just like ours. The nervous system of the lobster and the human being is so similar that anti-depressants work on lobsters. And it’s part of my attempt to demonstrate that the idea of hierarchy has absolutely nothing to do with sociocultural construction, which it doesn’t.
Newman (journalist): Let me get this straight. You’re saying that we should organize our societies along the lines of the lobsters?
It would be funny as an SNL skit, but as a supposed demonstration of professional journalism, it is a sad commentary on the state of affairs.
More in line with this group’s focus is Peterson’s point on the evolutionary reality of the hierarchical organization of species, including humans. Of course, this was not a moral or political statement, but a reference to neurochemical bases for perceptions and behaviors.
I appreciate that in our discussions we can press into more nuanced conceptual territories than Ms. Newman was willing to allow Dr. Peterson.
In recent years, the bidirectional communication between the gut microbiome and the brain has emerged as a factor that influences immunity, metabolism, neurodevelopment and behaviour. Cross-talk between the gut and brain begins early in life immediately following the transition from a sterile in utero environment to one that is exposed to a changing and complex microbial milieu over a lifetime. Once established, communication between the gut and brain integrates information from the autonomic and enteric nervous systems, neuroendocrine and neuroimmune signals, and peripheral immune and metabolic signals. Importantly, the composition and functional potential of the gut microbiome undergoes many transitions that parallel dynamic periods of brain development and maturation for which distinct sex differences have been identified. Here, we discuss the sexually dimorphic development, maturation and maintenance of the gut microbiome–brain axis, and the sex differences therein important in disease risk and resilience throughout the lifespan.