Friday, July 14, 2006

Women in Science: Experiencing both sides

According to this Washington Post article, the Stanford neurobiologist Ben Barres has a commentary in Nature this week (by subscription only) on the differences between his professional treatment as a woman (Barbara Barres) and as a man, after sexual reassignment. A profile of Barres was published in Nature online last year. Barres describes how he is treated with more respect as a man than he was as a woman.

Barres describes various forms of intentional and unintentional bias that limit women's opportunities in science (and, presumably, some other academic fields). In some form of journalistic balance, the Post article also interviews Stephen Pinker, "who said he is a feminist," and who holds that there are innate differences in men's and women's cognitive abilities. Pinker has not yet revealed the source of his insight into bare innate cognitive differences in fully trained professionals who have had life-long gendered social experiences to shape their cognitive development and professional stature. (See also a post by Majikthise.)

Update: Jim Johnson, at Politics, Theory, Photography, points out that the Nature commentary, titled "Does Gender Matter?" is really about whether or not there are innate SEX differences in cognitive ability, and the good reasons for thinking that there are not (or, at least, that if there are, they are indistinguishable from and minor relative to the impact of culture and acculturation). That perceived gender does matter is what makes Barres' standpoint a noteworthy source of insight.

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