Scientific Peer Review Is Broken Because the Peers Are All the Same

There’s been a lot of conversation about the value of scientific peer review lately. Less than a week ago, the New York Times reported that: “Two major [coronavirus] study retractions in one month have left researchers wondering if the peer review process is broken.” Much more concerningly to me, “[a]n unscientific and racist article” (quote from here) was published in Philosophical Psychology in December 2019 and the editors refused to let a group of scholars publish a critical commentary in a timely fashion. On a related note, the transphobic Gliske paper about which I had posted previously was retracted in April after months of controversy about how it could have possibly passed peer review.

Why does peer review not prevent the fruits of scientific racism, transphobia, and so many other damaging -isms and phobias from getting published?

My short answer is: it’s in the name.

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Dear Neuroscience: Stop Trying to “Fix” Diversity

I announced recently that I had been trying to publish an op-ed and that I would post it here if no newspaper would have it. No newspaper would have it, so here you go (and please imagine it were still the end of December, when this was all more recent and it still seemed a fitting time for new year’s resolutions):

As the year in which President Trump reinstated the ban on trans* persons from military service is coming to a close, many of us are hoping for a less transphobic new year. But the current year of sickening transphobia isn’t quite over yet. “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling just made headlines by expressing support for Maya Forstater, an openly transphobic researcher who claimed that sex was unchangeable and had nothing to do with identity. Anthony Ramos from the LGBTQ+ media advocacy organization GLAAD referred to Forstater’s view as “an anti-science ideology.”

The disturbing truth is that some scientists hold similar views as Forstater. A recent publication in eNeuro, an open-access journal published by the Society for Neuroscience, proves this point. Author Stephen Gliske, a nuclear physicist by training, proposed a novel theory regarding the neurobiological underpinnings of gender dysphoria (the distress that some trans* individuals experience because of the incongruency between their bodies and gender identities). Much of the argument relies on data from previously published rodent studies.

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Why Do Cis-Feminists Discriminate Against Trans*-Women?

A colleague of mine just shared with me a defensive manifesto of “gender-critical philosophers,” which I find extremely transphobic. When I read things like this, I’m not sure if I’m more angry, sad, shocked, or just embarrassed by my own naïveté (why can’t we just be respectful and get along?!).

These feminists (!) claim that “no trans woman is an adult human female, no trans woman is correctly categorised as a woman,” but they “don’t accept that [their] views are ‘transphobic’.” Instead, they claim that their “views are motivated, as most views in political philosophy are, by a belief in the existence of a certain combination of values and facts.”

What is it that makes members of a minority lash out against similarly or even more marginalized individuals within the same group? Continue reading

Marian Annett, née Drabble, 1931–2018

Marian Annett, circa 1988 (Photography Department, University of Leicester)

I found out on October 3, 2019, that British psychologist Marian Annett had passed away in April 2018. I was just (and still am) in the process of revising a paper on her work for resubmission with History of the Human Sciences. I am grieving like never before, because this is the first time that I’m grieving as a historian, not as a friend or family member. None of my historical actors (or actresses) had previously passed away while I was writing about them. And, frankly, Marian was alive to  me while I was working on my manuscript. I was in conversation with her. I still am.

In lieu of an obituary, which is currently being prepared by her colleagues Chris McManus and Alan Beaton, I want to let Marian speak. Not much is known about British female psychologists of the 20th century, and I’ll let Marian tell her story in her own words. Continue reading

The “Truth” about Handedness?

By virtue of my profession, I do not believe in scientific truths that are independent of space and time. Nonetheless, while I was nearing the completion of my dissertation (aka the first draft of my book project), I had to answer frequently to questions such as the following: Is there a true theory of handedness? What does handedness truly tell us about the brain, mind, and person? Is there any truth in the stereotypes associated with handedness? My highly contingent and situated answers to questions of this sort are the following (copied from my final dissertation chapter): Continue reading

When a Dissertation Becomes a Book Project

The dissertation is done and has thereby been magically transformed into a book project. To celebrate the past few years of work, here’s the dissertation abstract:


Sinister Intersectionality
A Left-Handed History of Neuro-Centrisms, 1865–2017

Tabea Cornel
Advisors: M. Susan Lindee, John Tresch

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Jamal Khashoggi and the Ethics of (Not) Being “on the Market”

Disclaimer: Serious times call for serious posts, and this one has nothing to do with neuroscience—though a lot with brains and academia.

People keep asking me if I am “on the (job) market.” I tell them that I’m not, but that I’m applying for jobs.

There is a crucial difference between seeing oneself as an agent (and being treated as such) and being a good “on the market.” Whoever came up with this terrible formulation anyway? The only humans I am aware of who have been on a market (to be sold) were enslaved people. Do we really want to talk like this about ourselves, in my case, a middle-class-raised white German soon-to-be graduate of an Ivy League university?

It makes me sick (!) to hear the “on the market” phrase over and over again from my peers, teachers, and role models. Talking as if we were on a market to be sold means great injustice to those who have been—and still are—actually enslaved, and it diminishes our own power as discerning agents and excellently educated individuals. Is this way of talking (and acting) an indicator of the fact that political correctness and its enforcement are really more of a shallow habit rather than an honest concern of ours? (I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole now.)

So, no, I’m not on the market. And I’m fully aware that up to 45 search committees for jobs and postdocs that I have applied for might be reading this. Hello to you, and thank you for reading my blog.

Back to my point: What does this have to do with Jamal Khashoggi? Continue reading

Glands and Hormones: 20th-Century Hopes and Fears across the Northern Hemisphere

Meet me in Seattle for HSS 2018, November 14!

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.

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Emily Willingham Criticizes the Binary Brain, Or: Why the Brain Is like an Elephant

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.

Must Read: Article in The CUT on Science and Sexual Stereotyping

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.

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