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Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences Hardcover – October 7, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


I'm the ideal test reader for Brain Storm. I've always had reservations about the sweeping claims that there are fundamental differences in the organization of male and female brains, caused by prenatal hormones. But the sheer number of published studies that seemed to give incontrovertible evidence led me to assume that the theory was sound. This elegantly written and fascinating book has changed my mind. Jordan-Young's comprehensive analysis of the array of conflicting results and methodological weaknesses shows that we have closed the book on this topic far too soon. Her warning is one that all scientists can agree with: Careful! (Lisa Diamond, author of Sexual Fluidity)

This important and intellectually powerful book shows that a dominant paradigm in human sex differences is held together by chewing gum. By painstakingly examining a large and contradictory literature, Jordan-Young shows the weakness of the brain organization hypothesis. She has so much respect for the scientific method that she can hope that reason and integrity will help create a better, more empirically sound theory of sex differences, and she reaches out to scientists to offer a glimpse of a new psychobiology. (Anne Fausto-Sterling, author of Myths of Gender)

This is a book of remarkable depth that sets a new standard for clear scientific thinking about complex behavioral traits, as well as for interdisciplinary scholarship. Rebecca Jordan-Young charts a fresh new course through the morass of questions about gender and sexuality with enviable humor, fairness, and intellectual power. (Evan Balaban, McGill University)

Brain Storm poses the most comprehensive challenge yet to the claim that prenatal hormone exposure permanently structures the brain to be either masculine or feminine, and does so in a highly engaging, fair-minded narrative that is a delight to read. (Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams, Cornell University)

Jordan-Young has written a stunning book that demolishes most of the science associated with the dominant paradigm of the development of sex and gender identity, behavior, and orientation. The current paradigm, brain organization theory, proposes: "Because of early exposure to different sex hormones, males and females have different brains"; and these hormones also create "gay" and "straight" brains. Jordan-Young interviewed virtually every major researcher in the field and reviewed hundreds of published scientific papers. Her conclusion: "Brain organization theory is little more than an elaboration of longstanding folk tales about antagonistic male and female essences and how they connect to antagonistic male and female natures." She explains, in exquisite detail, the flaws in the underlying science, from experimental designs that make no statistical sense to "conceptually sloppy" definitions of male and female sexuality, contradictory results, and the social construction of normality. Her conclusion that the patterns we see are far more complicated than previously believed and due to a wider range of variables will shake up the research community and alter public perception. (Publishers Weekly (starred review) 2010-07-12)

A carefully researched volume that exposes the problems with the widely accepted idea that gender differences are created by certain hormones in the womb. (Alex Spanko Boston Globe 2010-09-21)

What Jordan-Young's analysis uncovered is by turns fascinating and appalling...This book is not only a tonic, it's also full of scientific insights presented in plain, intelligent prose--an absorbing read, if you've ever wondered what was going on in the secret parts of your attic. (Sara Lippincott Los Angeles Times 2010-10-03)

It was with appreciation verging on glee that I read Barnard professor Rebecca Jordan-Young's devastatingly smart and definitive critique: Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences. Jordan-Young argues that the science of prenatal hormones, gender, and the mind "better resembles a hodgepodge pile than a solid structure." And she knows of what she speaks. An expert on measures and study designs, Jordan-Young has spent the last 13 years combing the literature on brain organization, unpacking assumptions, questioning methods and statistical practices, holding one paper up against another. She stresses that fetal hormones must matter to the brain--somehow. But after picking apart more than 400 studies that try to understand the genesis of particular psychological sex differences (real or supposed), she concludes that fetal T looks like an awfully anemic explanation...After decades of determined research, if robust links between prenatal hormones and "male" or "female" minds really exist, shouldn't we see those links across lots of different kinds of studies? This matters because the obsession with prenatal T can easily become a distraction. It can make us forget how much gender norms have changed--think of all those female accountants, lawyers, and doctors who weren't around 50 or even 30 years ago--and how remarkably similar men's and women's brains and minds actually are. All this unwarranted hammering away at difference (and its putative explanations) causes real trouble, too. As a growing body of research shows, cues that foreground gender and bring stereotypes to mind can dampen men's performance on tests of social sensitivity, women's scores on math tests, and women's stated interest in quantitative pursuits. Jordan-Young has done an enormous amount of work to untangle the gender claims. We ought to read her, cite her, thank her. And then, let's move on. (Amanda Schaffer Slate 2010-10-21)

Jordan-Young ferret[s] out exaggerated, unreplicated claims and other silliness regarding research on sex differences. The book [is] strongest in exposing research conclusions that are closer to fiction than science. (Diane F. Halpern Science 2010-12-03)

Exhaustively analyses every relevant study on hormonal sex differentiation of the human brain, and argues that they are riddled with weaknesses, inconsistencies and ambiguity. It's a clarion call for better science on the subject. (Madeleine Bunting The Guardian 2010-11-14)

In her exhaustive survey of the literature, Jordan-Young discovers a hodge-podge of tiny samples, inadequate controls, conflicting data and extravagant conclusions...By meticulously revealing the flawed research behind brain organization theory, she opens the way to a non-hierarchical study of sex difference that will be both more fruitful for science and less damaging for society. (Hilary Rose and Steven Rose London Review of Books 2011-04-28)

Jordan-Young's detailed and exhaustive critique of brain organization research is quite welcome. (Vernon Rosario Gay and Lesbian Review 2011-07-01)

About the Author

Rebecca M. Jordan-Young is a sociomedical scientist and an Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at Barnard College, Columbia University.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (September 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674057309
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674057302
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #352,125 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a layperson, I found the reading slightly difficult. Not because of the author's writing style, which is excellent given the material, but because it's not your typical pop-science, easy read. You can't sneak in a few chapters in the waiting room at the doctor's office. I like how she painstakingly defines each concept, and even gives non-academic folks (like me) a fairly thorough description of the types of studies that have been used in developing brain organization theory (and tells you that if you've already mastered those concepts, to go ahead and skip certain sections). She even wrestles with how to define certain terms and concepts because she doesn't want to introduce bias (unlike many of the studies she cites). She delicately balances the line so as to not talk down to the reader, but writes intelligently enough so that, I believe, even other brain researchers won't feel insulted. Although I loved Cordelia Fine's Delusions of Gender, Jordan-Young avoids the sarcasm and snarkiness that is so prevalent in Fine's work. As a result, BrainStorm is a serious survey of dozens of brain studies, whose results are really not as clear-cut as the researchers would have us believe. Muddling through the incessant citations can slow you down, as she often cites multiple studies at once; but this cannot be avoided, and indeed, is necessary to make her points.

Perhaps most striking is the fact that virtually none of the studies uses the same definition (or any definition at all) for words like "feminine" and "masculine." When pressed, researchers and scientists insist that such concepts are "common sense" and require no explicit definitions.
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Format: Hardcover
Jordan-Young's book is a enormously worthwhile exploration as to what has gone wrong in brain science. While other scholars within science studies have pointed toward the many ways in which bias are (perhaps unavoidably) structured into scientific studies, Jordan-Young offers a careful exploration as to the specific ways in which such research has been flawed. Much of her analysis concerns ways in which brain scientists have measured either masculinity/femininity (in research on sex differences) or homo/heterosexuality (in research on "the gay gene). While many brain scientists have taken these constructs for granted, it turns out that studies are using many different definitions in their research, even contradictory ones, yet they have generally failed to recognize this basic fact, with many researchers citing earlier studies that actually *contradict* theirs as evidence in favor of their own conclusions.

Jordan-Young seems to have written this evaluation in hopes of pointing out these flaws to both a popular audience and to brain researchers themselves. It's been disappointing then, to see the reviews this book has received in the scientific journals. Basically, the response has been to agree that Joran-Young has pointed out many serious flaws in the research, but to then go on and assert "Well, there are *other* studies that I like, and Jordan-Young does not discuss those. So overall, we should continue to believe in these sex/sexual orientation differences." OK, well, I'm not a brain researcher myself, just an interested observer, so *perhaps* they're right. BUT, what about all the junk science that's there? Why not be concerned about it? Why not say "Whoa! Look at all this junk! How did all this get here?
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Format: Hardcover
This is a brilliant book. It calmly, with substantive evidence, and careful dissection of the research shows that the research on brain organization and the subsequent claims about gender are built on a house of sand (if I may be allowed to shift metaphors). Jordan-Young, who has a background in science and it shows, points out some troubling problems with the research: definitions of key terms have changed over time but the old and new studies are lumped to together as if they were comparable (they are not),contemporaneous studies that do not measure the same things are lumped together as if they were comparable (they are not), contrary results are not reported, as well as other problems. The bottom line: the supposedly solid evidence on which gender differences (and their subsequent implications for gendered behavior)are not even close to being on solid ground. In the spirit of true science, she calls for more careful research.
I have taught Psychology of Women, Critical Thinking and other psychology courses for many years. I have been dismayed at the books claiming to present the research on gender comparisons, but in fact being highly selective about what they choose to report (their side only),talking only biology and ignoring social psychology (like the book "The Female Brain")and other cheap tricks. Jordan-Young avoids selection bias by examining every study done on the subject of brain organization, leaving nothing out. Many of her criticisms are familiar to me and others who teach gender studies but her synthesis and conclusions are brilliantly her own. She takes the problems and criticisms a giant leap forward.
This book is refreshing because it is neither diatribe nor superficial, unlike so many books that purport to be about gender differences.
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