Science writer questions promotion of stereotypes

Beckett has fired four lawyers in three years, at a cost of more than $110,000 to Canadian...
Beckett has fired four lawyers in three years, at a cost of more than $110,000 to Canadian taxpayers.
Some findings of evolutionary psychology are scientifically suspect and promote gender stereotypes, award-winning Wellington science writer and novelist Bernard Beckett says.

He discussed the delicate balance between scientific discovery and personal storytelling at a recent breakfast event in Dunedin, part of the New Zealand International Science Festival.

Mr Beckett, who is also a high school English and drama teacher, was interviewed by Dunedin executive producer and writer Peter Hayden during the breakfast.

Another festival participant, Dr Cordelia Fine, a Melbourne-based academic psychologist and author, had earlier attacked what she termed "neurosexism" in a talk.

Dr Fine was not critical of neuroscience research itself, but said that some of its findings were being badly misinterpreted by some popular science writers and educationists to promote damaging gender stereotypes under the guise of brain science.

In his recent book Falling for Science, Mr Beckett said evolutionary psychologists were "backing a seriously shonky argument", although it had been built on some "stunning science".

At the breakfast event, he noted that people were "very excited about gender difference" but queried the view taken by many evolutionary psychologists that men had evolved to be more aggressive and violent than women, who, in turn, had become more capable social networkers.

Such views could be used as excuses by men who, for example, no longer felt like doing the dishes, he added.

There was insufficient scientific evidence to support such "stories" about ancient gender characteristics, which were often arrived at by arguing backwards from what were considered to be current gender realities.

In the absence of genuine independent evidence, it could equally be argued that the most dominant early men were relatively gentle beings who used poetry to charm the women around them, while women of the time were aggressive in maintaining their positions, he said.

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