NZSM Online

Get TurboNote+ desktop sticky notes

Interclue makes your browsing smarter, faster, more informative

SciTech Daily Review

Webcentre Ltd: Web solutions, Smart software, Quality graphics


The Real Reason...

I am pleased to be able to tell you that I have finally discovered why science is so dominated by males. The reason lies in the differing anatomy of the sexes, as many have conjectured, but not, I hasten to add, in the brain; the answer lies in parts further south.

While browsing through a rather entertaining book on scientific research, I came across the following quote, taken from Bertrand Cramer's 1971 work Child Psychiatry and Human Development:

The capacity of the penis and testicles to move and retract presents the boy with a particular challenge in the development of the body image; this may contribute to his interest in machinery, physics and the like. The boy's better spatial sense relates to the greater use he makes of space in motor activity; the ability the boy has to perceive his sexual organ may also contribute to a better representation of space and to his better skill and greater interest in experimental science and mathematics.

Most people I've run this past -- the bulk of them males -- have had a good chuckle over it, and consigned the idea into the silly bin. In and of itself, it's not much sillier than Freud's ideas on penis envy, which are still doing the rounds in some circles. Perhaps Freud's ideas have persisted because they've gained a certain respectability from having been around a long time. It's helpful if you can refer to a famous founding guru.

At various stages, psychology has swung between seemingly ad hoc approaches to the mind's functioning -- such as form the basis of many branches of therapy -- and the desperately scientific, reductionist approach personified by the Skinnerians with their boxes and response charts.

The psychology of the sexes will no doubt provide a suitable battleground or playing field for quite some time to come. Whether it will ever become possible to attribute the differences, if any, in male and female behaviour and thought patterns to something as simple as basic anatomy seems extremely unlikely to me. In the meantime, I'll continue to attribute my interest in science to an early dose of science fiction, rather than an overdose of testosterone.

Vicki Hyde is the editor of New Zealand Science Monthly.