Unsupervised Thinking
a podcast about neuroscience, artificial intelligence and science more broadly

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Episode 16: Gender, Biology, & Society

On this "very special" episode of Unsupervised Thinking, we partner with our fellow podcasters over at Always Already, a critical theory podcast, to burst out of our respective academic bubbles and tackle issues of science and society. The fodder for our conversation is Brain Storm, a book by Rebecca Jordan-Young, that lays out the evidence that prenatal hormone exposures influence gender differences in behavior later in life. In the book, she claims that the sum total of the studies she covers only offers weak support for the hypothesis, and that scientists need to appropriately incorporate other factors into their models such as socialization and environment.

While we use this book as a common starting point, our conversation quickly moves beyond the particulars of these gender science studies. We start by questioning who is the intended audience of this book and what it's trying to say to different groups. This moves us into a discussion on critiques of science made by non-scientists and the role that those should/could play in shaping research agendas. We also spend some time dissecting the two-way street between science and society: particularly, how are common notions of gender shaped by scientific studies and how do society's stereotypes seep into the methods of science? An underlying disagreement about the nature of truth peppers the discussion, but we hold off on a full blown debate on that. Ultimately it is clear that the extent and cause of gender differences in behavior is far from settled science, and that is something on which we all can agree.

We read:
Brain Storm (Preface, Ch 1, 8-10)
To get a sense of the book, check out reviews by the LA Times and Slate.

To listen to (or download) this episode, (right) click here.

As always, our jazzy theme music "Quirky Dog" is courtesy of Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) 

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