How to Sell a Dissertation, Or: The Hand as a Proxy for the Brain

[I wrote this post for the Osler Library of the History of Medicine, where I spent four weeks over the summer as a recipient of the Mary Louise Nickerson Award in Neuro History. I added hyperlinks and minor changes.]

When asked about my dissertation topic as an early ABD (“all but dissertation”), I used to tell people that I work on the history of handedness research. A very common response was: “Handedness in what sense? Does it have something to do with molecules?” I usually explained that I’m researching manual preference, and that my project has nothing to do with chirality or any other fancy physical phenomenon.

After half a year of explaining what I mean by “handedness,” I came up with a more efficient strategy for answering the dissertation question. I started waving my hands in the air whenever I said “handedness.” This was somewhat effective. My conversation partners usually understood that I write a history of left- and right-handedness, but this also made them give me a look that said: “Oh my, what a boring thing to do.” Continue reading

How Testosterone Allowed Norman Geschwind to Bridge an Intellectual Century

The Center for the History of Medicine at the Francis A. Countway Library in Boston is magnificent! But very cold. I guess I brought the wrong clothes, being spoiled by Philly summers (or what shall I call it?).

I have been here for three weeks now, and will stay for one more. I am slowly making way through Norman Geschwind’s papers. Geschwind and his colleagues’ theory from the early 1980s is quite (in)famous among science critics.

Frankly, Geschwind and his colleagues almost designed a Grand Unified Theory of humanity there. The level of testosterone in prenatal life, so they suggested, affects the asymmetrical maturation of a human brain, and by extension one’s immune system, sexual orientation, language abilities, handedness and much more. Continue reading

Meet Me for 4S 2017 in Boston and Hear Me Talk about Intersectionalities

The second conference I signed up for this year is 4S in Boston, August 30 through September 2. I organized what should be an excellent panel on: “Working with/against the Politics of Benevolent Neuroscience.”

Giulia Anichini, Marisa Brandt, Victoria Pitts-Taylor, Oliver Rollins, and myself will give talks. Check out the panel abstract:

Continue reading

Meet Me at Cheiron 2017 and Learn about the Multiplicity of Neuro-Centrisms in Handedness Research around 1900

My paper “Left-Handed Complements: Forging Connections between Handedness, Speech Ability, and Brain Asymmetry around 1900” was recently admitted for presentation at Cheiron 2017, to be held at Mississippi State University in Starkville, MS, June 22 to 25.

The program is absolutely terrific!

Check out the (long) abstract of my own talk, to be recycled for Chapter 1 of my dissertation on anatomical theories of handedness in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Continue reading

“I’m Not a Bigot, It’s Just Science”

You might have already heard of Grace Pokela’s pointed facebook post that dismantles the “science” of transphobia. But just in case you haven’t—and chances are you haven’t, because I myself only learned about it through my brother—you should totally check it out.

It’s important to remind ourselves that “science” can be used quite easily to essentialize socio-economic injustice and culturally specific stereotypes. But it’s not only the misrepresentation of scientific “facts” that is the problem (e.g., denying that there’s more than XX and XY). Sometimes it is the bare attempt of scientifically classifying individuals that is already problematic. Typing humans secures the basis for discrimination, regardless of how fine-grained the categories are. Continue reading

Inspired Part 3: Are Numerical Measurements Intention in Disguise?

I want to share some more thoughts which occurred to me while reading John Tresch’s The Romantic Machine recently. I wish to elaborate more on what I missed in the book: intent(ion(ality)) on the machine users’ part. Tresch asserted that he didn’t aim at writing “a story about good intentions gone wrong, or about the sinister underpinnings of seemingly liberatory projects” (25). This is certainly legitimate, but I was wondering: Why not? Doing so would be perfectly in line with my concern for researchers’ hidden agendas, how far these fertilize or corrupt science, and to what extent they make it more or less easy for politics to adapt scientific results for their own purposes—as I pointed out in my paper on “Making Normal Sexuality” and tried to explain with a little more detail in a recent post. Continue reading

“A very Unusual Person”

I do not read horoscopes, but I love personality tests. I admit that this is weird, because one makes promises (nearly?) as false as the other, but I find the attempt of measuring human character and abilities in numbers marvelously interesting. Finally, with my project on the methodological review of the Kinsey Report, I have a respectable reason for taking some of these tests during my work time—and learn about my sexual orientation. Continue reading

Some Conferences, Sex/Gender and Handedness

Today, I received the CfP for the third NeuroGenderings Conference. I really have to share this before I start with all the readings recommended by Penn’s HSS Department for the time before classes start 08/28. (Noteworthy difference between Germany and Penn: One to three books per semester and class in Berlin, four books plus additional reader for pre-orientation at Penn.) If you are interested in sex/gender/sexuality and its material as well as ideological foundations, I suggest strongly that you check your calendar and try to reconcile a trip to Lausanne with your schedule for next May. As one might have noticed by thoroughly inspecting the links in the left frame, I attended the NeuroGenderings II Conference last year. This was my first conference (in not too many, I admit) where I thought: “I want to do some research on this topic!” many times. On earlier conferences, I used to think: “How interesting! This methodology is truly remarkable, but I would rather not work on quantum physics,” or the like. Continue reading