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Brainstorm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  188 Ratings  ·  27 Reviews
Female and male brains are different, thanks to hormones coursing through the brain before birth. That's taught as fact in psychology textbooks, academic journals, and bestselling books. And these hardwired differences explain everything from sexual orientation to gender identity, to why there aren't more women physicists or more stay-at-home dads.

In this compelling book,
Hardcover, 394 pages
Published September 7th 2010 by Harvard University Press
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Nov 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
I felt like I was back in my biology classes, picking apart research to find the flaws in the popular theories. I've read the other popular brain science books lately, but none of those really picked apart the studies they were supporting (or refuting). Jordan-Young does what I have to believe is a remarkably thorough job of compiling the studies from the last fifty years in this field and basically saying, "Look, none of these are real experiments, so you have to take these results with a grain ...more
This book is an exhaustive look at a fairly large body of scientific literature --- Rebecca Jordan-Young is trying to evaluate the evidence for the thesis that testosterone and estrogen shape distinctly male and female, and also gay and straight, brains sometime during gestation.

To do this, she looks at all the studies ever published following either of these designs: 1) using a sample of people about whom something is known of their prenatal hormone exposure (like people with disorders like co
Nov 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This was just excellent. Usually I'm hesitant to give this type of literature review 5 stars, just in case there's something I didn't agree with in the book or if there's a risk that it's become outdated, or for whatever other reason. But this book deserves the full score. It's an exhaustive overview, well written, and I thought the figures that visually summarized the forest of available studies were just brilliant. It's a book has a clear structure when evaluating the studies of brain organiza ...more
Stef Rozitis
I have to review this in a hurry (off to work). For a detailed, scientific book it was pretty well written with every attempt to make it understandable. It clearly took us through the specific flaws in treating gender differences as "fact" (not to say that there are no differences but just to show that we don't really understand the full shape or cause of them). One of the most easy to grasp arguments is that anything we know about human behaviour is based on "quasi-experiments" rather than expe ...more
J.P. Drury
Aug 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
"What good is a science that doesn't tell us anything new?"

This is the book-I-wish-I-had-written of the year. Jordan-Young tackles a huge literature and comes out on top. She takes us through carefully and comprehensively, clearly explaining the concepts her audience needs to understand to navigate the data on the organizational hypothesis (the hypothesis that prenatal hormone exposure shapes human sex-linked behavior).

And the message she relays is important. Not surprisingly (at least from my
Aug 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, women
A thorough critique of over 300 research studies (all that were done before 2000, major ones after) on the effects of sex hormones in masculinizing/feminizing the brain of the unborn child, analyzing their methodology, definitions and findings. Very clear and straightforward writing style, and fair in its approach. The author also interviewed over 20 of the major researchers in this field to understand and clarify their findings and views. The upshot is that, although the idea that male and fema ...more
Jan 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Enormously fair minded and quietly brutal take-down of bad social science. A model of precise and useful truth-seeking.

The first nine chapters dismantle "brain organization theory" (the basket of loosely articulated theories that posit prenatal hormone exposure as the main driver of sex, gender, and sexuality, while also implying unity of those three concepts, and their one-dimensionality). The tenth chapter describes some of the author's ideas about how to do better, all of which sounded extrem
Oct 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: class
Definitely a very interesting read, if not a page turner. Incredibly thought provoking about "empirical" scientific studies people use to justify gender roles
Vlad Luca
Mar 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book, though scientific at times, should be required reading. We need to get rid of the idea that there are innate differences in the brain between men and women and between homosexuals and heterosexuals. That the human species is a dichotomy and everybody needs to converge into their place. The point is not that there aren't any differences - because there are. But it's more likely that they arise from the complexity of all inputs we all deal with, all experiences we go through, the enviro ...more
Jan 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
¿Cómo nos convertimos en las personas que somos? ¿De qué manera la corporalidad tiene una influencia en nuestras personalidades, habilidades, deseos e intereses?

Esas son preguntas que cualquier persona que se interese de alguna manera por el tema de la sexualidad ha llegado a plantearse. Si volcamos la mirada hacia los medios de comunicación, los discursos médicos y gran parte del activismo, se vuelve evidente que existe una fetichización por el discurso científico, y por científico me refiero a
Dino Wong
Feb 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gender-science
If 'Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality' by Fausto-Sterling is a book for the public, 'Brain Storm' is a book for scientists. Jordan-Young had brilliantly depicted a number of challenges to sexuality research, ranging from masculinity/femininity, sexual orientation, sex-typed interest and 'sexed' hormones. The whole book is organised to challenge the idea of 'sex difference' and to question the reliability of previous studies supporting the notion: 'Male and Female ...more
Aug 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing

Jordan-Young's book, Brainstorm, is a masterpiece in scientific critique. Though dense in it's subject matter, and most likely not the best choice for those just being introduced to the language of biology, Brainstorm is a must-read for anyone who's ever had doubts about the scientific media's constant barrage of studies toting evidence about sexed differences in brains. Jordan-Young writes an elegant and comprehensive review of brain-organization theory, ultimately discrediting and upturning m
Ronald Lett
Dec 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
This is a very dense read (there are multiple citations after every sentence in some sections)! Even so, it contains very valuable overview of the glaring flaws in methodology, citation (citing papers that do not support or that even contradict the statement due to different definitions), media interpretation and several examples of unintentional statistical errors that are endemic to gender studies cases. This should be required reading for anyone in these fields. If you are familiar with stati ...more
Jan 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Exhausting in its detail, repetitive in the extent to which it debunks from multiple angles, yet a valuable document challenging brain science by being thorough and working within the terms of Developmental Brain Science as a field. I am interested in now reading "Delusions of Gender" by Cordelia Fine to see if it makes for a more digestible read and can make my appeals to people in casual conversation and arguments more palatable and less-idealistic sounding (trying to bring up systemic failure ...more
Chris Ma
Apr 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read Chapter 3 and Chapter 7 and really enjoyed the reading. Jordan-Young provides a clear, accessible, comprehensive review and critique of sex/gender related brain studies in this book. Chapter 3 examines many researches done on the topic of differences between a male brain and a female brain, and Chapter 7 examines scientific studies that deal with (homo)sexuality and try to locate its biological origin. Many NYT science stars can be found in her critical reading of brain studies. And, surpri ...more
Worthy but oh so boring. Too much comparing of studies and citations make it less interesting to read, unfortunately.
A bit shocking how scientists keep changing the goalposts and forgetting that they've done so, all in the name of finding the "truth" about gender interests (once being called gender roles until that sounded too 1950s - now gender interests is the preferred term). And if studies don't find the "truth" (that there are notable differences between genders) then they either don't ge
Dec 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I had a whale of a time reading this wonderful take down of the horrifyingly shoddy and positively unscientific "brain organization" literature that posits that "sex differences" are "hardwired" into the brain. As a sociologist of course I was skeptical of the research, but even I had no idea just how sloppy the academic research program has been/is in this domain. Should be required reading for every person who ever read some half-baked media report on "sex differences" that reaffirmed their ow ...more
Mar 08, 2013 rated it liked it
I found the information in this book provocative, but I really wish it were better written. Unfortunately, it's kind of a slog. The author takes an exhaustive look into the theory of brain organization -- which states that hormonal changes in-utero can cause predictable changes in gender expression, identity, and sexuality in adult humans -- and pretty much demolishes it. Based on her extremely thorough read-through of all of the significant studies on the subject, I'm pretty sure we're safe cal ...more
Jul 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This very thorough exploration of the biases in brain organization theory seems to me to be a must read for everyone with an interest in gender research. Both the consequences of these flaws for current (popular)research and for our assumptions on sex differences in daily life are huge. Not an easy read, but well worth it, for becoming aware of these flaws and providing focus and pointers for further research and discussion.
Jun 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very thourough examination of sex difference studies... The language of hardwiring, blueprints, latency, permanent organization regarding on the early effect of hormones to the neural development would not fit because brains unlike genital are plastic, brain development is not completely finished at any point prior to death...... impressive
Dec 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book meticulously and definitively documents the many reasons why one should, on purely scientific grounds, be highly sceptical of current claims of a biological (hormonal) basis for innate differences in preferences and cognitive processes between men and women. It is also fantastic story of how parts of science can be not only very wrong but also rather ridiculous.
Apr 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I love a relentless takedown of logical and methodological flaws in a shoddy theory, and this work did an excellent job of it. It's not really written for a popular-science audience, which may be a weakness since it's refuting pop-science, but it's an engaging read (if a heavy one) nonetheless.
Aug 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Very interesting, but very academic language for a popular science book. More on my thoughts here.
Apr 16, 2015 rated it liked it
comprehensive, oral, trivial, personal
Amai Freeman
Jul 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
an invaluable scientific tool for dissecting gender.
Dec 11, 2012 rated it it was ok
This was practically unreadable, which made me feel terrible, as it was a Christmas gift.
Nov 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
Fascinating review of the scientific research into how hormones do and do not 'cause' various sex differences in humans.
rated it really liked it
Jul 14, 2017
rated it liked it
Nov 14, 2015
Andina Ayu
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Mar 30, 2015
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“Normative statements about "women's roles" and girls' and women's behaviour being "appropriately feminine" were replaced with more neutral statements about what women and girl versus boys and men do and think and say they want. In this way, conventionally gendered behaviour was taken out of the context of prescription and presented as simple description. This had the possibly unanticipated consequence, though, of taking these behaviours out of the context of the social world. The descriptive approach significantly deemphasised the role of norms, social structures, and modelling in developing gendered traits. Instead, disembodied as "naked facts" of sex differences, they began to look more and more like simple reflections of male and female behaviour.” 1 likes
“Scientists can test only what they do not take for granted. That can make studying familiar phenomena particularly challenging...This may be especially true of masculinity, femininity and sexuality, because certain ideas abut gender and sexuality are so broadly shared in our culture” 0 likes
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