Customer Reviews: Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences
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on February 8, 2011
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. Because what is considered feminine and masculine changes over time and varies between cultures, these definitions are not constant, but the research (which spans several decades) treats them as though they are fixed and unchanging concepts that don't need to be spelled out. She points to several studies that cite previous research to support their hypotheses, when in reality, those studies actually CONTRADICT each other because of varying definitions of key terms.

All in all, a very thorough and extremely well-researched read. I often found myself marveling at the amount of data she has obviously pored through to carefully and thoughtfully present to the reader. Highly recommended for the layperson interested in brain research.
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on January 22, 2011
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? How did people go about for so long without noticing how messy things were here? What can we do to clean it up?" No, instead they just say "I still believe." I'm inclined to be suspicious of researchers who - upon seeing how much error and bias has been prevalent within the field - nevertheless seem more concerned in defending a conclusion than in making sure that research is done well. Jordan-Young, meanwhile, offers many suggestions as to how bias in the field might be addressed, and brain research done more effectively.

Also, I might add that Jordan-Young is a great writer - very clear, even when handling complicated material. If you ave an interest at all, it's well worth the time!
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on February 2, 2011
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. While this is not written for a pop audience and may be tough for some readers, it is clear and engaging, with no jargon (she defines the difficult technical terms). It should be required reading by the scientists in this area, by professors of gender studies, and any educated layperson who wants to truly understand more about gender research and what it does or does not show.
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on February 5, 2015
Brain Storm is a brilliant tour-de-force of analysis of the scientific literature on the organizational/activational (aka prenatal hormone) theory that reigns in neuroscience and psychology. Through a very careful analysis of the studies themselves Jordan-Young makes the very persuasive argument that there isn't a consistent body of evidence supporting the theory that gender and sexual orientation differences are caused by prenatal exposure to hormones. This will come as shock to some who find this theory to be canonical or 'settled law.' But Jordan-Young's careful, methodical deconstruction of the findings from hundreds of studies quickly reveals that there's no 'there' there. Such supposedly incontrovertible evidence is revealed as the product of an almost willful suspension of critical thinking on the part of the scientists working in this area--some of them don't come off too well here, and Jordan-Young treats them over-generously IMHO. Yes, the writing's rather dense in spots but Jordan-Young's an academic and the book was brought out by Harvard University Press. The author's also trying to avoid some of the inaccuracies created by simplistic metaphors found in many of the pop-sci books on this topic. I have PhD in the humanities but am quite well versed in the secondary literature on this subject and STILL struggled with parts of this book. But Jordan-Young is very kind to us non-experts and nicely sums up her arguments along the way. If you're a fan of Cordelia Fine's or Anne Fausto-Sterling's work, this is a must read!

One small quibble: as a cultural historian I would have liked to hear the author's take on exactly WHY so many scientists have been so invested in essentialist theories of gender and sexual difference, to the point that they're unwilling to examine the suppositions on which their own research is grounded. Why so much scientific essentialism and why now? It'd make a tidy feminist argument if all the research had been done by men, but some of the most prominent scientists working in this area today are women; a handful of others are gay men. What exactly is going on in American society just now that makes the flight to biological determinism so darned attractive to so many; so attractive that we're willing to lower our standards for what constitutes legitimate scientific inquiry to 'prove' that gender and sexual orientation are in-born? Perhaps it's the value of essentialist arguments to undergird legal rights claims currently being made by LGBT activists (the "Lady Gaga theory of gay origins") or cultural reactions to women's social and cultural gains ("Men and women ARE different!") But that's another book.... I'll take this one for now!
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on May 7, 2015
This is a most enlightening book which gives a comprehensive overview of the research on brain organization. I have learned so much about study design and the inherent flaws, researcher's bias and data interpretation. Much of this is very detailed, and interesting nonetheless.
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on July 5, 2013
This book is a scholarly masterpiece written for popular enjoyment. Instead of taking cheap shots at flaws in individual studies, the author interprets each study as charitably as possible and explores the implications of the results and numerous contradictions between the results to try and form a clearer picture of what we do and don't know about cognitive differences between sexes. A fascinating read.
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on November 21, 2011
This is the best book on sex/brain studies written in the past 10 years. It is a must read for everyday folks and academics alike.
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on December 25, 2011
I've given this version 4 stars for the Kindle implementation because the footnotes are not "active". By "active" i mean that you can click on the footnote and you are taken to the note text. My guess is that the publisher simply didn't want to take the time to create the proper footnote coding in HTML. Without "active" footnotes, reading the footnotes takes a lot of effort that effectively reduces the flow of the reading. Given what we pay for a book like this, and with a book as complex as this, i think it is very important to take advantage of what the Kindle offers and provide easy access to footnotes through this mechanism.

I will review the book contents once i've completed reading it.
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on September 22, 2011
Amazing book. Precise and careful research with enormous implications for how we think of ourselves. This is not some cheap and personal opinion about sex differences. This is really good research - as good as it gets.
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on December 9, 2012
Anyone interested in gender studies should read this book. Had to get it for class, but ended up really enjoying it
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