Meet me in Seattle for HSS 2018, November 1–4!
Once more, I organized a panel for the History of Science Society Annual Meeting, this time in collaboration with my friend Yize Hu. It will be a fantastic opportunity to discuss how 20th-century practitioners perceived the potential and perils of hormones in Japan, China, central Europe, Scotland, and the U.S. Join us if you can!
The overall panel:
Glands and Hormones: 20th-Century Hopes and Fears across the Northern Hemisphere
Research on glandular secretions and their metabolic impact transfigured the medico-scientific understanding of the body in the late 19th century. In 1905, British physiologist Ernest H. Starling (1866–1927) coined the word “hormone,” an umbrella term for secretions from various parts of the body. In the subsequent decades, glandular science flourished and fueled a refashioning of concepts such as aging, growth, reproduction, and sex/gender. This panel sheds light on various ways in which the hormonal view of the body impacted 20th-century science in Asia, Europe, and North America. What role did glands and hormones fulfill in scientific and social lives at different times and places? What hopes and fears were associated with interfering in the hormonal body? To what extent were hormone-related practices and theories mobile across space and time? The papers exemplify multiple connotations of hormones: they could be both promises and threats to human health, as well as disruptors or justifications of the contemporary social order. Furthermore, due to the double role of hormones as actively sexing/gendering (through their metabolic function) and passively sexed/gendered substances (through social ascriptions), hormonal theories and practices transcended the binaries between nature and nurture, and between the physical and the social world.
Today I want to share Emily Willingham’s excellent article “The Non-Binary Brain.” The subhead makes the article’s politics clear: “Misogynists are fascinated by the idea that human brains are biologically male or female. But they’ve got the science wrong.”
There’s much more to this article than debunking the myth that there are male and female brains. For instance, Willingham connects the ideology of the binary brain to sexist theories about autism, and she compares doing neuroscience to being a blind person who only explores one part of an elephant—the trunk or the foot or the ear. Most importantly, the post features one of my greatest heroines: Daphna Joel.
I suggest you read it if you get a chance. Although I’ve long been familiar with each individual argument, I found the combination of topics and epistemological critiques refreshing.
When I was still sleeping this morning, Melinda Wenner Moyer published a spot-on article in The CUT, “These Ideas About Sexual Attraction May Be Based on Shoddy Science.” Moyer traced the controversy around French psychologist Nicolas Guéguen’s questionable research on social interactions between men and women. She did an excellent job at connecting evolutionary biologists’ tendency to sexual stereotyping with the current conversation around sexual harassment and other forms of sexualized violence. You should definitely read for yourself, but here’s a little teaser:
We are finally, as a country, publicly acknowledging that men have been treating women like shit for ages. Now, even the science that lends support to our iconic gender stereotypes—the science that reinforces the idea that men are biologically programmed to be sex-crazed and that women are basically sex objects—is coming crashing down, too.
[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
I can’t stop thinking about Neuroskeptic’s post “You Are Your Brain, So Don’t Blame Your Brain,” which I read over a year ago. The idea that the brain is the cause and essence of all things human resonates with my research on growing neuro-centrism(s) in the past 150 years. Here’s a short overview of the debate that Neuroskeptic intervened in.
In October 2016, Neil Garrett et al. published a paper titled “The Brain Adapts to Dishonesty” in Nature Neuroscsience. The abstract reads as follows: Continue reading
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
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
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
This is the last of my book summaries. Ergo, I’ll have to come up with “real” posts again from now on. Shouldn’t be too hard as I’ll embark on my dissertation research on May 7. Or maybe May 13, after the grades will be submitted for this semester (which is at the same time my last semester of obligatory teaching).
The following set of summaries deals a lot with German empires—during colonialism and Hitler’s rule in Germany. In particular the histories of colonialism contain some exceptionally well-executed and creative works. I must say, as a German, these histories touched me very personally and literally made me cry one time. It’s strange how war seems so far away from my US-American peers. Sure, they haven’t had it on their own continent for many, many decades. Not so the Germans. To this day, my grandmother starts crying when she talks about her escape from Silesia. Continue reading