26 of 33 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: The Essential Difference (Penguin Press Science) (Paperback)Before reading this book in its entirety I took issue with another reviewer's low rating as it seemed focused on the 'dishonest' marketing of the book.
Having now read it through and followed it up with Deborah Cameron's 'Myth of Venus and Mars' I'm actually rather more inclined to agree with SevenSister07's review.
I'm afraid that in spite of Baron-Cohen's pleas of mitigation that his work should not be seen in generalised terms, the sum effect is that difference is emphasised disproportionately. Worse still the starting point does appear to be from an awful lot of assumptions which are not backed up by any sort of thorough or objective research. Anecdotes of 'typical' male and female children hardly give credence when we can all think of exceptions - the idea I suppose is that the 'exceptions' can be written off when they don't match expectations - hardly an objective or scientific approach. There IS a massive contradiction inherent in this book - the 'male brain' is not restricted to men and the 'female brain' vice-versa. There is also implicit in Baron-Cohen's own findings [although frustratingly he doesn't give any sort of figures to indicate what relative proportions he's talking about] that there is actually FAR MORE variance within either the range of 'typical' male or female type brains than there is difference between the 'two types'.
This book for a supposedly science-based account, makes some very sweeping generalisations, which despite the author's stated intent to do otherwise, magnify differences between the sexes which are statistically very small and on an individual basis, indicative of precisely nothing. In later chapters he gets onto what is purportedly 'hard' biological evidence, but this too is misleading. Variations in activity and brain structures between the sexes [and even this is not a universal] are presupposed to indicate difference in talent at various activities - but again this is problematic since measurements in average linguistic abilities over a large number of studies [as cited in Cameron's book, for example] actually show incredibly low to insignificant variation cross-sexually in these.
The anthropological explanation of the root of these purported differences goes back many hundreds of generations to our ancestors' supposed hunter/gatherer dichotomy. Except of course current thinking is that the larger game hunt which males are posited to have specialised in, would count for a very small proportion of the groups' diet. It is now thought by many anthropologists gathering would have provided the vast majority of the sustenance, supplemented by smaller animal kills, which together with the gathering activities, it is likely BOTH sexes were engaged in for the bulk of their time. To compound this Baron-Cohen gives numerous candidates for different areas of the brain which MAY account for difference without actually being able to pin it down to anything specifically. The problem is that the conclusions are still very largely speculative and are used to support hypotheses based on nothing more tangible.
To be honest I'm not sure which is worse - the risible cod-psych of the John Gray variety, or something such as this, which whilst trying to distance itself from such a stereotypical approach actually shores it with what turns out to be largely spurious academic authority.
Read this book by all means, but please keep your sceptic's head on and think about what is actually being EVIDENCED. Some genetic and neurological research suggests that 'hard-wiring' can alter radically in only a few generations - and neural pathways are actually far more dynamic and alterable within the lifespan of an individual.
Our social and cultural evolution is progressing at a rate which [so far as we know] is unprecedented in human history. The assumptions of intellectual sex-difference are strongly rooted in a conservatism with the pace of such change. I'm not suggesting Baron-Cohen is deliberately assuming a place in the ranks of such social conservatism [I do think he would more than likely be appalled by the thought], but the emphasis on 'difference' when the real story is similarity, is socially retrograde.
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Initial post: 29 Nov 2010 13:45:06 GMT
Mr. S. L. Robinson says:
yes I agree, i dont think he is deliberately conservative only he cuddles up to conservatism subconciosly as he knows its a lucurative market these days. essentially hes just watching out for himself and his interests, I am aspergers and I find most things I read from simon laced with a certain agenda but this is true of allot of aspergers aimed books.
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