Gender myths die hard -- even when buried under mountains of discrediting evidence, they can reemerge like a homicidal doll on a rampage.
This week press releases for the "The Female Brain," the book by San Francisco neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine, must have landed on U.K. news desks and it feels like, well, just a few months ago stateside. Last summer the book hit America's bookstores and attracted an un-fact-checked lovefest followed by a blogger beating from Mark Liberman, a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania who dissected her pseudoscience point by point.
At the center of the crossfire was Brizendine's assertion that women talk three times more than men do (or to be really scientific 20,000 words a day instead of mens 7,000). "Women have an eight-lane superhighway for processing emotion," went her much-quoted sound bite, "while men have a small country road." The real news wasn't news at all: Theres plenty of scientific data that show that men speak about as much if not more than women. But many news articles failed to note this until the Boston Globe interviewed Liberman and the rest was blogospheric history.
But earlier this week, the Daily Mail's Fiona MacRae resuscitated the old chestnut about women's loquacity. Essentially, she translated the book's press release, which in turn unleashed a storm of freshly credulous news articles from Canada to Turkey to a Washington Post blog.
Interestingly, some of the readers of Liberman's blog tried to post messages in response to the Daily Mail article pointing out that the book's facts had been called into question, but their posts failed to appear. Instead, a string of posts were published asking why anyone needed to study something so obvious. As one typical poster put it, "I don't really think that it took several doctors doing a clinical study or writing a book to conclude that women talk more then men! Good Grief ask any husband or honest woman."
Normally when I hear about the latest study confirming some female stereotype, I don't bat an eye. So, we talk more than men, whatever. Maybe it's true, maybe it will be debunked. But peeling back the onion of the book's press coverage gave me pause. At a moment, when enthusiastic publicity is given to studies concluding women spend eight and half years of their lives shopping and proponents of single-sex classrooms argue that boys should be allowed to roughhouse while girls should not, the tenacity of idiotic stereotypes is unsettling. No doubt the study of differences between women's and men's brains will unravel untold wonders, but it's hard to underestimate how rife with scientific imposters the path there will be.