Mike's Reviews > Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong—and the New Research That's Rewriting the Story

Inferior by Angela Saini
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really liked it
bookshelves: library-eaudio

Science is objective, right?

But scientists aren't. When science got seriously going in the Victorian era, it was mostly available to well-off men, and they took the assumptions of their culture and projected them back into the natural world.

This book is a thorough and careful attempt to question that bias. It goes through questions like how different men and women really are; whether the conclusions drawn from primate studies and the study of hunter-gatherer cultures in the past hold up today; and what the role of the menopause is in human culture.

While I was reading this book, I heard elsewhere about two studies done into skull capacity in the 19th century. One (by an opponent of slavery) showed that the range of variation in size had a high degree of overlap between races. Another (by a researcher who believed black people to be inferior) focused on the average size, which was lower in the African skulls he tested - something that can be explained well by total body size as a result of nutrition, by the way. Modern analysis of their data shows that both of their datasets were quite similar and supported both conclusions. The author of Inferior makes a similar point; looking at the averages gives a false impression of how dissimilar men and women are in a number of areas, given how much the ranges overlap. Indeed, there are a lot of areas in which evidence for difference is weak or nonexistent.

It's the same with each of the areas the author looks at; whenever it looks like science shows that widely-held stereotypes about men, women, and their interaction are not just stereotypes but biologically essential, it turns out that it's not that simple and not that clear. There's plenty of contrary evidence if you want to look for it.

The overall impression I was left with was that men and women both have similar potential, and that placing one above the other, especially in the way we structure society, is a mistake. Of course, that was my belief going in; but there's plenty of good evidence for it.

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Reading Progress

September 21, 2018 – Shelved
September 21, 2018 – Shelved as: library-eaudio
September 22, 2018 – Started Reading
October 18, 2018 – Finished Reading

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