How Science Got Women Wrong – some highlights

 

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In July, we were delighted to welcome award-winner science broadcaster and journalist Angela Saini.  As well as presenting on BBC Radio and writing for The Guardian, New Scientist and The Economist (among others), she is also author of the critically acclaimed Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong.

Angela spoke to BroadMinded about her extensive research for Inferior, revealing the shocking bias which has shaped scientific studies on gender for centuries, the myths that society has accepted as truths as a result, and the reality about women and men that science is now beginning to uncover.

Here are some of the highlights of her talk (although we highly recommend you buy the book for a fuller picture!):

  • In the past, many scientists allowed their bias and prejudice about gender or race to affect how they read data. As a result, they drew false conclusions about intellect, physical ability and natural status that were deeply damaging to women and other oppressed groups.
  • Scientists today are much more careful about eliminating bias of this kind; however, the rise of ‘click bait’ headlines means that ‘old science’ is getting airtime again in an alarming way.  As consumers it is essential that we read with a critical eye and check sources where possible.
  • Women on average have the same IQ as men and ideas of what women and men are categorically good at and not good at are myths.
  • We absorb stereotypes that we’re raised with and they’re reinforced because of the environment we live in. Upbringing plays a huge role in how socialisation affects us.
  • Studies about ‘inherent’ differences between men and women are notoriously difficult to conduct because of how early socialisation begins. The differences we have been able to identify are so slight as to be insignificant. Differences between individuals are much more significant than any differences between groups.
  • A patriarchal state is not our natural state. Bonobo monkeys (one of our closest evolutionary ancestors) exist within a matriarchal social hierarchy. This is because females cooperate with other females they aren’t related to and these strong bonds prevent males from moving up the hierarchy. We can move beyond the current patriarchal system by coming together and supporting one another.
  • The Nuclear Family is a social construct of how a family “should be”; we have not always lived like this. It forgets the importance of extended family and grandparents. One theory even suggests that grandmothers play a bigger role than parents in increasing human longevity.
  • Although social scientists look at science, scientists often don’t look at the social sciences which have much to tell us about the way that upbringing and environment can affect brain development; this needs to change.
  • Social debates are outstripping what science can tell us; in a lot of cases the science is not yet there to support the debate.
  • Science is one of the slowest areas of society to move on from its mistakes.
  • And finally, once again – differences between individuals are much more significant than any differences between groups so: 1. Let people be who they want to be and don’t try to mould them to a particular idea of what they ‘should’ be. 2. Every time you meet someone new, try hard not to form any stereotypes in your mind. Treat people as individuals.
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