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
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:
A Left-Handed History of Neuro-Centrisms, 1865–2017
Advisors: M. Susan Lindee, John Tresch
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.
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.
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
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.”